Coach: Jeff Brohm (8-5, entering second season; 8-5 overall)
2014 record: 8-5, 4-4 in Conference USA; fourth in C-USA East
Look back: Western Kentucky ranked No. 2 nationally in passing offense (374.3 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring offense (44.4 points per game), using its prolific and potent offense to post an 8-5 record and claim the first bowl victory in school history.
WKU got off to a sluggish 2-4 start, including a 50-47 triple-overtime loss at rival Middle Tennessee, before winning five of its final six games to turn around its season. The Hilltoppers claimed a surprising 67-66 overtime victory at Marshall, ending the Thundering Herd’s undefeated season. WKU edged Central Michigan 49-48 in the Popeye’s Bowl, which was played in the Bahamas.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 9
Defensive starters lost: 2
Key losses: WR Willie McNeal, TE Mitchell Henry, C Derrick Stark, RT Cameron Clemmons, LB Terran Williams, DB Cam Thomas
Top returnees: QB Brandon Doughty, RB Leon Allen, WR Taywan Taylor, WR Jared Dangerfield, LT Forrest Lamp, LG Brandon Ray, RG Darrell Williams, DE Gavin Rocker, DT Bryan Shorter, DT Devante Terrell, DE Derik Overstreet, LB Dejon Brown, LB Nick Holt, DB Prince Charles Iworah, DB Marcus Ward, DB Branden Leston, DB Wonderful Terry
Strengths: Quarterback Brandon Doughty, the 2014 Conference USA most valuable player and 2015 preseason C-USA offensive player of the year, led the nation with 4,830 passing yards and 49 touchdowns last season. He returns to steer a deep and talented offensive attack.
Doughty was joined on the preseason All-C-USA team by running back Leon Allen, receiver Jared Dangerfield and defensive back Wonderful Terry.
Allen ranked No. 18th nationally with 1,542 yards per game last season. Dangerfield ranked No. 13 nationally in receiving touchdowns (11). Terry, who will help lead a defense that returns nine starters, scored three defensive touchdowns last season, with two of them sealing wins for Western Kentucky.
Count WKU among the teams that benefitted from UAB opting to shut down its football program for two years, with Blazers transfer defensive tackle Jontavius Morris shining during spring football.
Weaknesses: Western Kentucky lost center Derrick Stark and right tackle Cameron Clemmons. The Hilltoppers didn’t settle on an offensive-line rotation during spring drills and will need to get the line set quickly.
The Hilltoppers lack depth at quarterback. With a line still in flux and Doughty’s past injury issues, WKU needs reserve quarterbacks to be ready. USF transfer Mike White can help train the group, but he won’t be eligible to step on the field until 2016.
While the defense appeared to show dramatic improvement during spring drills, it had major room to improve. The Hilltoppers ranked No. 121 out of 125 NCAA-recognized teams in scoringdefense (39.9 points allowed per game and No. 120 in total defense (509.9 yards allowed per game).
Outlook: Western Kentucky has the talent to win the first Conference USA title in school history. The key will be following the lead of sixth-year quarterback Doughty, who learned a lot after suffering major injuries in 2011 and 2012 while the Hilltoppers endured a 26-game losing streak.
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com