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2015 MAC football non-conference previews: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Can Miami knock off the favorites of Conference USA?

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

After hosting Cincinnati in Week 3, Miami heads south the following week to square off against Western Kentucky in its non-conference finale. The Hilltopperswho were picked to win the Conference USA East Division in the preseason, must head to Vanderbilt, host conference foe Louisiana Tech, and travel to Indiana before they can host the RedHawks.

WKU boasts a lot of returning talent on offense as they were the first team ever in FBS history to have both a 4,500 yard passer and a 1,500 yard rusher in 2014. Brandon Doughty, the defending C-USA MVP and Sammy Baugh Award winner, leads the aerial assault with 4,830 passing yards with a 67.9 completion percentage, 49 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions last season. Leon Allen is responsible for the attack on the ground as he rushed for 1,542 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding 476 yards and three scores as a receiver.

The Hilltoppers also return four of the top six pass catchers from a season ago, including Jared Dangerfield and Taywan Taylor, who combined for 114 catches for 1,592 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tight ends are not much of a factor in the passing game but the 6'5" Tyler Higbee had four touchdowns in 2014, so defenses still have to account for him and the 6'7" Tim Gorski.

Western Kentucky has plenty of beef up front as it has eight players 6'5" or taller and nine players at 300+ pounds. Forrest Lamp heads the group as he is a two-time all-conference selection at left tackle, started every game of his career, and was named to the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List.

Despite having a defense that allowed 39.9 points per game, the team does have a couple playmakers on that side of the ball. Nick Holt, who is also on the Lombardi Watch List, was fourth in the conference with 111 tackles from his middle linebacker spot last season while preseason all-conference selection Wonderful Terry had three defensive touchdowns and broke up Central Michigan's two-point conversion in the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl to seal the win.

Special teams is not a strength for WKU as its longest field goal in 2014 was 42 yards and averaged 37.1 yards per punt with only three punts of 50 yards or more. Despite this, Kylen Towner can do some damage in the return game as he took a kickoff back for a touchdown last season.

For Miami to pull off the upset against Western Kentucky, it needs to shorten the game by putting together long drives for scores to make it easier on the defense. The Hilltoppers were 51% on third down stops on defense, so the RedHawks will have their chances on WKU. Defensively, the Red and White just needs to not give up the big play; the 'Toppers will try to hit passes down the field through both dropback and play-action, and staying home will give them the chance at turnovers (WKU had 18 turnovers in 2014). If Miami can do both of these things, then they have a chance of ending their non-conference slate with a win.