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The Western Michigan Broncos football program represents Western Michigan University in the Football Bowl Subdivision of Division I and the Mid-American Conference (MAC). Western Michigan has competed in football since 1906, when they played three games in their inaugural season. In 1927, WMU joined four other schools (Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Ferris State University, and Wayne State University) to form the Michigan Collegiate Conference. Western Michigan then moved to its present conference in 1946. Prior to 1939, Western Michigan's athletic teams were known as the Hilltoppers.
Western Michigan's football team has had 15 head coaches in its history, with current head coach, P. J. Fleck being named to the position December 17, 2012. Fleck replaces Bill Cubit, who held the job from 2005 to 2012. WMU had a huge turnaround in Cubit's first season, going from 1–10 in 2004 to 7–4 in 2005. The 54.5% increase marked the highest in Division I-A between the two seasons and garnered Cubit the 2005 MAC Coach of the Year Award. Cubit was also the only first-year Division I-A head coach to take his team from a negative point differential in 2004 to a positive one the following year (–188 to +12). WMU was also one of eight football teams that was bowl eligible but did not go to a bowl game.
WMU's main rival is the Central Michigan University Chippewas and they play for the WMU–CMU Rivalry Trophy. As of 2012, the Broncos own a 45–36–2 advantage in the series. In 2002, Western Michigan won the rivalry game at Central Michigan for the first time since 1973, snapping a 12-game winless streak (0–11–1).
From Western Michigan's first season of football in 1906 until they joined the MAC in 1949, WMU compiled a 187–87–12 (.675) record, going undefeated six times, in 1909, 1913, 1914, 1922, 1932, and 1941. During that stretch, Western Michigan had only seven losing seasons, and only once had back-to-back losing records. In 1922, the team finished 6–0 while outscoring their opponents 160–0.
The early dominance of the Hilltoppers was led by quarterback Walt Olsen and running back Scott Dunlap. In 1916, Olsen led the country in scoring with 17 touchdowns and 36 extra points. Olsen set a school-record with 8 TDs in a single game that season. Dunlap also set a team record with 19 TDs. The only loss in 1916 was to Notre Dame when George Gipp completed a 62 yard drop kick, the longest in football history.
In 1939, WMU began playing at Waldo Stadium. Coinciding with the opening of the new stadium, the Hilltoppers changed their name to avoid confusion with athletic teams at Western Kentucky University and Marquette University. A contest was held to come up with a new name and assistant football coach John Gill suggested "broncos." In support of the decision, the W Club's semi-annual publication, The Hilltopper, was renamed, The Bronco.