On Friday August 29th the Mid-American Conference and Conference USA will square off as the Bowling Green Falcons will meet the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The Hilltoppers are coming off of a 8-4 season finishing 4-3 in the Sun Belt, but missed out on a bowl game. The Falcons are coming off one of their best seasons in history finishing with a 10-4 record. The Hilltoppers are 0-1 vs the Falcons as they have only met one other time.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 2013 Rewind:
The 2013 season for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers was full of its ups and downs as their 8-4 record was not enough to receive a bowl bid. The Big Red started of their season with a win at Kentucky but dropped the next two, falling to Tennessee and conference foe Southern Alabama. They rebounded from those two losses as they won their next three games defeating Morgan State, Navy, and conference foe Louisiana Monroe.
The ups and downs continued for the Hilltoppers as they lost two conference games in a row coming at the hands of Louisiana Lafayette and Troy. Again, the Hilltoppers responded well to those losses as they defeated Georgia State, Army, Texas State, and Arkansas State; but ultimately the weak out of conference defeats is what ultimately led to Western Kentucky falling short of a bowl game.
Deemed "Big Red," WKU's mascot stands for the spirit of the students and alumni of Western Kentucky. Created in 1979, this red furry blob also is meant to symbolize the schools nickname the "Hilltoppers." I haven't quite figured out how it exactly does that yet, but I will not question tradition. "Big Red" also stars in his own ESPN commercial and made it to the final four in ESPN's college mascot challenge. If nothing else, WKU's mascot game is on point, I will have to give them the edge in this category no doubt.
The "BIg Red" of Western Kentucky make the move to Conference USA after spending over 30 years in the Sun Belt (1982-2013). WKU will play in the East division of C-USA which includes conference powerhouse Marshall and old rival Middle Tennessee State. Many teams made the move to C-USA after the Big East dissolved into the American Athletic Conference. This also lead to C-USA teams joining the new AAC leaving space open for new C-USA schools.
Houchens Industries L.T. Smith Stadium has served as the home for the Hilltoppers since 1968. The stadium has been under many renovations since opening, the first being in 1989. When the stadium was built in 1968 it seated 19,250 fans. In 1989 a renovation reduced the seating capacity to 17,500 seats. Lights were installed in 1987 and then Astroplay turf was installed in 2002. The latest renovation of the stadium was in 2009 when seats were added to compensate WKU's move from FCS (1AA) to FBS. The stadium currently seats about 22,000 people, but still serves as one of the smaller college football stadiums in the FBS.
Bobby Petrino passed down the reins of the Big Red to offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm when he left for Louisville this offseason. As the new head coach, Jeff Brohm will inherit a high-flying, offensive attack that broke 18 single-season school records including total offense, individual passing yards and individual rushing yards in his first season as the Hilltoppers' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at WKU in 2013. He will look to do the same as in 2014 as he will inherit much of the same offense that he directed last season including quarterback Brandon Doughty.
This team is loaded with some very talented weapons for the 2014-2015 season.
Five Key Players
1. Brandon Doughty, QB, Senior
2. Leon Allen, RB, Junior
3. Taywan Taylor, WR, Sophomore
4. Nick Holt, Linebacker, Junior
5. Juwan Gardner, Defensive Back, R-Freshman
Success will start at the Quarterback position for the Big Red this season with senior starter Brandon Doughty During the 2013 campaign Doughty showed signs of greatness as well as carelessness. Doughty broke many of the passing records at WKU but also finished his first full season as a starter with 14 interceptions. Under new coach Jeff Brohm Doughty will look to have a breakout year for the Big Red.
After the graduation of Antonio Andrews, WKU's All-American running back, junior Leon Allen will look to pick up the slack in the running game for the 2014 campaign. During the spring game, Allen rushed for 53 yards on nine carries but will look to get the bulk of the carries this season. Anthony Wales and Darmontre Warr will also look to take some of the load off of Allen as they each both rushed for a respective 43 yards during the spring game.
Overall this offense looks to be much like the Falcons offense as they are both stressing pace and explosiveness. August 29th could consists of a very explosive high scoring game.
Defensively the Hilltoppers ranked 44th in the nation last season in points against and look to improve upon that this season. There are a few playmakers that this defense will have to rely on for it to be even more successful as it was last year. First, one of the anchors in this defense is junior linebacker Nick Holt Jr . Holt had a very impressive spring game in which he racked up six tackles with a tackle for loss as well as a 40-yard interception return. Another person who really stood out in the spring game was redshirt freshman defensive back Juwan Gardener. Gardener racked up six tackles (three solo) and grabbed a 26-yard interception return.
The defense is coached by Nick Holt, father of WKU linebacker Nick Holt Jr. He will look to improve on his 44th ranking this season and lead the Hilltoppers to have the best defense in the Sun Belt. His first chore will be to attempt to stop the high-flying Dino Babers coached offense of the Falcons.
The Hilltoppers special teams unit lead the Sun Belt last season, finishing with the best net kickoff coverage in both punt and kick returns. Special teams could play a huge role in this game versus Bowling Green because of their explosive kick return man Ronnie Moore. If this unit can play as well last year as it did this year than special teams could play a huge role in this Bowling Green game. Garrett Schwettman, the kicker for this WKU special teams unit converted 13 of his 16 field goal attempts last season including four versus Troy. He also converted 43 of 46 extra point attempts last season and has been a consistent man on this special teams since he was a freshman. He will be a junior this season and will serve as the full time kicker for the Hilltoppers for the third year straight.
Joseph Occhipinti will look to take over as the punter for WKU this season. He appeared in five games last season and averaged 32.1 yards per punt. He will be taking over for graduated senior Jeremy Moore.
An unreal amount of points have the potential to be scored in this game, however it is the first game of the season and we will not see these offenses in midseason form. I predict this game to be nothing more than a shootout, but I also think that the number one ranked MAC defense will get the best of the Hilltoppers. This game will come down to who can get the most stops and I see the Falcons being able to do that. My final prediction is 48-28 Falcons.