The big 2014 WKU football preview: Upward trajectory, post-Petrino?

Western Kentucky has either improved or held steady for most of the last five years. The Hilltoppers move to Conference USA with a new coach and a rebuilt defense; the 2014 season will represent quite a test of that improvement.

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1. Getting exactly what you expect

[Petrino] really is a lovely hire for WKU, even if he leaves for the first SEC offer that comes his way (perhaps as soon as December). Even if he just stays for one year, he will probably win games and serve as a positive influence on WKU quarterbacks. When you hire Petrino, you better have a backup plan in place (and WKU has at least 10 months to figure that one out), but he can still be a tremendous success in the short-term.

In last year's WKU preview, I professed appreciation for the Hilltoppers hiring Bobby Petrino as basically a minor-league rehabilitation stint before he inevitably (and quickly) left for a major-conference program. Granted, I didn't have any idea that he would end up back at Louisville, a program he cheated on and broke up with less than a decade ago, but I still liked the idea of a Petrino rental as long as WKU had a plan in place to succeed him.

Sure enough, Petrino stayed for one season, won his eight games, kept the program on (increasingly) steady footing, built something decent out of the WKU offense (especially after the first month), and left. And sure enough, WKU had his successor ready to go.

2. A ready-made résumé

You do have to figure WKU administrators were a little bit nervous. The Hilltoppers had offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm lined up as Petrino's successor when Petrino quickly left Bowling Green, but when Petrino indeed took the Louisville job, it had to be tempting for Brohm to go with him. Brohm played at Louisville, and going with Petrino could mean that, if or when the mentor left for yet another job, Brohm could be in line for the head gig at the alma mater.

In the end, however, Brohm stayed at WKU. That's good news for WKU, as his résumé comes straight out of central casting: four years as a Louisville quarterback (team MVP in 1992 and 1993), one as head coach of the Louisville Fire arena football team, four as Louisville's quarterbacks coach (under Petrino), one as Louisville's passing game coordinator, one as Louisville's offensive coordinator. The first seven years of Brohm's coaching career were all based in Kentucky. After three years away (two at Illinois with Paul Petrino, one at UAB with former Petrino assistant Garrick McGee), Brohm came back to the Bluegrass State to serve as Petrino's offensive coordinator at WKU.

This seems just about perfect on paper, and while a lot of good-looking hires end up failing, one has to figure the odds are good that Brohm can sustain most of WKU's recent momentum as a program. After winning just four total games from 2008-10, the Hilltoppers have won at least seven in each of the last three seasons. In terms of F/+ rankings, WKU improved for three straight years, then at least held steady after a coaching change in 2013.

Long-term, Brohm could be a pretty strong hire. But he has some work to do in 2013 if he wants to avoid some temporary regression. WKU has a lot of key pieces to replace.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-4 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 77
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Kentucky 97 35-26 W 36.5 - 39.9 L
7-Sep at Tennessee 72 20-52 L 23.9 - 43.6 L
14-Sep at South Alabama 68 24-31 L 32.9 - 33.2 L
21-Sep Morgan State N/A 58-17 W 34.8 - 43.9 L
28-Sep Navy 58 19-7 W 25.8 - 10.3 W -3.4
3-Oct at UL-Monroe 109 31-10 W 40.9 - 29.8 W -0.5
15-Oct UL-Lafayette 86 20-37 L 38.0 - 26.8 W 5.7
26-Oct Troy 105 26-32 L 28.4 - 29.4 L 5.5
2-Nov at Georgia State 121 44-28 W 29.3 - 38.1 L 5.6
9-Nov at Army 100 21-17 W 22.8 - 27.1 L 1.6
23-Nov at Texas State 107 38-7 W 34.8 - 7.3 W 4.9
30-Nov Arkansas State 90 34-31 W 35.5 - 24.2 W 4.9
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -5.5% 82 -1.8% 73 +0.5% 54
Points Per Game 30.8 52 24.6 44
Adj. Points Per Game 32.0 41 29.5 80

3. The proverbial light bulb

WKU didn't exactly start the 2013 season on fire. The Hilltoppers took down Kentucky in the season opener, and taking down an SEC team is never an insignificant accomplishment, even if the team you're conquering is a Kentucky team in serious transition. But the defense was incredibly shaky over the season's first four games, and the offense was both prolific and problematic. In his first three games as WKU's starting quarterback, Brandon Doughty threw eight interceptions -- five against Tennessee and another three against South Alabama. After completing 79 percent of his passes against Kentucky, he completed just 54 percent against UT and USA.

Meanwhile, the defense was atrocious, allowing 6.4 yards per play in the first three games, then allowing 5.1 to Morgan State.

As is often the case with a new coaching regime (and a rather significant shift in philosophy from Willie Taggart's Stanford-esque style to Petrino's), however, the lightbulb came on after a while.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 40.2, WKU 32.0 (minus-8.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 8 games): WKU 31.9, Opponent 24.1 (plus-7.8)

In his final seven starts, Doughty threw nine touchdown passes to only five interceptions while raising his completion rate to 65 percent. And while the defense was still scattershot -- the Hilltoppers allowed 3.2 yards per play to Navy, 5.8 to ULM, 6.3 to Troy, and 2.2 to Texas State -- there were enough good moments to aid in a 7-2 stretch to finish the season.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.12 77 IsoPPP+ 92.6 100
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 49.3% 12 Succ. Rt. + 100.3 60
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.4 83 Def. FP+ 96.4 94
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.2 74 Redzone S&P+ 90.8 95
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.9 ACTUAL 31 +7.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 30 75 61 67
RUSHING 34 72 65 79
PASSING 35 76 59 48
Standard Downs 80 72 90
Passing Downs 60 46 107
Q1 Rk 74 1st Down Rk 63
Q2 Rk 76 2nd Down Rk 94
Q3 Rk 74 3rd Down Rk 39
Q4 Rk 53

4. A few more big plays wouldn't hurt

At Louisville and Arkansas, Petrino never inked blue-chip recruiting classes, but he always had a treasure trove of receivers and a strong quarterback. When his passing game was able to turn short, efficient passes into explosive ones, everything else fell into place.

It was no surprise that the personnel he inherited from Taggart didn't perfect fit his system. His first receiving corps was young -- two of the top three wideouts were freshmen -- with limited big-play ability. Efficient passes remained efficient, but the random big-gainers were mostly missing. WKU was 27th in the country with 217 plays gaining at least 10 yards, but the Hilltoppers were 81st with only 22 plays of at least 30 yards.

Assuming that Brohm and offensive coordinator Tyson Helton (who coached with Brohm at UAB in 2012) employ a lot of the Petrino philosophy, WKU could benefit quite a bit from experience and familiarity. Doughty is less likely to be an interception machine at the beginning of the season, senior receiver Willie McNeal averaged a solid 13.0 yards per catch, and the two heavily used freshmen (Nicholas Norris and Taywan Taylor) are, of course, now sophomores. Norris and Taylor combined to catch 15 passes for 227 yards (15.1 per catch) in November, and it's conceivable that the big plays that were missing for the most part in 2013 could begin to appear more frequently this fall, especially if a junior college transfer like wideout Jared Dangerfield is able to play a key role from the start of the year.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Brandon Doughty 6'3, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 246 374 2857 14 14 65.8% 19 4.8% 6.9
Nelson Fishback 6'2, 215 Jr. NR 13 18 174 1 0 72.2% 1 5.3% 8.5
Todd Porter 6'4, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 5 10 76 0 1 50.0% 0 0.0% 7.6
Damarcus Smith 6'1, 209 So. 4 stars (5.8) 2 5 33 0 1 40.0% 0 0.0% 6.6
Troy Jones 6'2, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)








5. QUARTERBACK BATTLE ROYALE (in 2015)!!!!!!

Petrino and Brohm have assured that there is no shortage of candidates at the quarterback position. If Doughty falters, he might struggle to hold onto his starting job, but assuming he doesn't, the line for playing time in 2015 is huge. When Doughty proved pick-prone early in the 2013 season (to put it kindly), Petrino and Brohm tinkered with other options, from then-sophomore Nelson Fishback, to redshirt freshman (and former four-star recruit) Damarcus Smith to true freshman Todd Porter.

Doughty held onto the job, but all three backups are currently still with the program. Plus, Brohm added a junior college transfer, Troy Jones, to the mix. One has to figure that not all four of these backups are around when the 2015 season begins, but it will be interesting to see who seizes the backup role this fall.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Antonio Andrews RB 267 1730 16 6.5 5.5 47.9%
Leon Allen RB 6'0, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 72 357 5 5.0 4.6 37.5%
Keshawn Simpson RB 45 173 7 3.8 2.9 28.9%
Anthony Wales RB 5'10, 190 So. 3 stars (5.6) 17 112 2 6.6 4.5 52.9%
Brandon Doughty QB 6'3, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 15 42 0 2.8 2.2 33.3%
Damarcus Smith QB 6'1, 209 So. 4 stars (5.8) 10 51 0 5.1 6.2 40.0%
Nelson Fishback QB 6'2, 215 Jr. NR 9 41 1 4.6 4.6 33.3%
Travis Lock RB 6'1, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
DeAndre Farris RB 5'9, 168 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Joe Brown RB 5'9, 172 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)




Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Willie McNeal WR 5'10, 180 Sr. 2 stars (4.9) 71 46 599 64.8% 18.6% 60.3% 8.4 44 8.5 76.9
Nicholas Norris WR 5'10, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) 55 33 429 60.0% 14.4% 68.0% 7.8 15 8.4 55.1
Antonio Andrews RB 49 41 478 83.7% 12.9% 62.2% 9.8 39 10.5 61.4
Taywan Taylor WR 6'1, 190 So. 2 stars (5.2) 38 24 270 63.2% 10.0% 64.7% 7.1 -23 6.1 34.7
Joel German WR 6'0, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 36 26 339 72.2% 9.4% 51.6% 9.4 41 8.5 43.5
Mitchell Henry TE 6'4, 245 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 36 25 305 69.4% 9.4% 51.5% 8.5 13 8.9 39.2
Leon Allen RB 6'0, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 24 22 202 91.7% 6.3% 50.0% 8.4 -24 8.1 25.9
Tim Gorski TE 6'7, 253 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 19 17 172 89.5% 5.0% 70.6% 9.1 -5 10.1 22.1
Tyler Higbee TE 6'5, 233 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 19 13 169 68.4% 5.0% 66.7% 8.9 16 8.7 21.7
Jamarielle Brown WR 15 8 89 53.3% 3.9% 26.7% 5.9 -18 5.6 11.4
Aaron Jackson WR


7 3 20 42.9% 1.8% 100.0% 2.9 -26 1.6 2.6
Kadeem Jones FB 5 4 44 80.0% 1.3% 25.0% 8.8 0 11.4 5.7
Cam Lewis WR


3 1 6 33.3% 0.8% 100.0% 2.0 -12 3.3 0.8
Lonnie Turner WR 5'11, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.3)
Jared Dangerfield WR 6'3, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Antwane Grant WR 6'1, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Nacarius Fant WR 5'11, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Nick True TE 6'5, 240 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 100.3 3.39 3.66 43.4% 69.6% 13.8% 119.2 4.8% 3.8%
Rank 71 11 30 21 60 8 49 70 17
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Luis Polanco LG 36 1st All-SBC
Sean Conway C 42
Cameron Clemmons RG 6'6, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 31
Forrest Lamp LT 6'4, 296 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12
Ed Hazelett RT 12
Max Halpin C 6'3, 295 So. NR 7
Darrell Williams RT 6'6, 310 So. 2 stars (5.2) 2
Derrick Stark C 6'2, 295 Sr. NR 0
Connor Popeck OL 6'4, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0
John Delaney OL 6'6, 304 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0
Charleston Antwine OL 6'5, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Donald Rocker OL 6'4, 296 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Justin Martinez OL 6'3, 275 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Kyle Jones OL 6'4, 300 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Zack Heath OL 6'3, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)

6. Rushing red flags

It certainly helped that WKU was able to lean on the running game when the passing game faltered in 2013. Antonio Andrews was a workhorse; he carried 304 times with 37 receptions in 2012, then he carried 267 times with 41 catches in 2013. He was both efficient and explosive, and his hands out of the backfield were tremendous. Backups Leon Allen (the presumptive new starter) and Anthony Wales showed decent potential in seven to eight carries per game, but Andrews carried most of the load. And he did so behind a clean line.

WKU's offensive line was one of the best in the mid-major universe at keeping defenders out of the backfield and giving backs a chance to get upfield. Four players with starting experience do return, including three-year starting guard Cameron Clemmons, but three players responsible for 90 starts, including all-conference guard Luis Polanco, are gone. The passing game could compensate for a step backwards with the run, but a shaky line could obviously cause problems across the board.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.12 52 IsoPPP+ 96.5 85
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.5% 41 Succ. Rt. + 97.2 68
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.1 27 Off. FP+ 100.5 55
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.2 63 Redzone S&P+ 96.2 73
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.2 ACTUAL 21.0 +1.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 14 83 68 72
RUSHING 60 66 70 50
PASSING 10 98 80 102
Standard Downs 54 44 73
Passing Downs 108 113 78
Q1 Rk 68 1st Down Rk 67
Q2 Rk 67 2nd Down Rk 92
Q3 Rk 104 3rd Down Rk 122
Q4 Rk 107

7. At least the second-stringers return

Three is a scary number to see in the "returning starters" column. WKU must replace its best pass-rushing end (Bar'ee Boyd), its most disruptive tackle (Calvin Washington), all three starting linebackers (Xavius Boyd, Andrew Jackson, Chuck Franks), both starting safeties (Jonathan Dowling, Arius Wright), and a starting cornerback (Tyree Robinson). That's rough, and it makes sustaining WKU's late-season defensive gains rather difficult.

If there's hope for the defense, however, it comes from the simple fact that the second string remains mostly intact. It's one thing to lose three of your top four in a given unit; it's another to lose six of your top eight. In players like tackle Bryan Shorter, linebacker Daqual Randall, and safety Rico Brown, WKU has experienced backups (or part-time starters) ready to play a larger role. Plus, Brohm signed junior college transfers at each level of the defense -- one lineman, two linebackers (including highly-touted Dejon Brown), two defensive backs -- to make sure that second-year defensive coordinator Nick Holt is not without some toys in the toy box.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 98.4 2.97 3.27 37.2% 67.2% 17.3% 84.3 6.0% 4.6%
Rank 67 68 61 44 63 88 94 27 109
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Bar'ee Boyd DE 12 35.5 5.8% 11.0 6.5 0 4 2 0
Gavin Rocker DE 6'2, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 27.5 4.5% 5.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Devante Terrell DT 6'0, 318 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 22.0 3.6% 2.0 0.5 0 0 1 0
Calvin Washington DT 12 18.0 2.9% 3.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Bryan Shorter DT 6'2, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 6 12.0 1.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
James Hervey DT 10 9.5 1.5% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
T.J. Smith DE 6'2, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 11 7.5 1.2% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Kalvin Robinson DE 6'5, 233 So. 2 stars (5.2) 10 5.5 0.9% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
DeMarcus Glover DE 6'4, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 7 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Raphael Cox DT 6'3, 270 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 9 3.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jamichael Payne DT 6'1, 332 Sr. 2 stars (5.4)
D'Von Isaac DT 6'4, 275 So. 2 stars (5.3)
Ge'monee Brown DT 6'2, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Xavius Boyd LB 12 85.5 13.9% 15.5 7.5 0 2 1 0
Andrew Jackson LB 11 75.0 12.2% 8.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
Chuck Franks LB 12 16.5 2.7% 4.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Daqual Randall LB 6'0, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 7 10.0 1.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Terran Williams LB 6'2, 222 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 9.5 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Devante Duclos LB 6'1, 220 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 5.0 0.8% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Shaquille Johnson LB 6'4, 223 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Drew Davis LB 6'1, 215 So. 2 stars (5.2)
Dejon Brown LB 6'3, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
Nick Holt LB 6'1, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
D'Andre Ferby LB 6'2, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)





8. Size up the middle

Mid-major defenses are often forced to rely on speed or creative schemes because of a general lack of size up front. That isn't the case for WKU, at least not in the middle of the defense; the six tackles listed above average 6'2, 298, and linebacker Daqual Randall runs a cool 245 pounds. Granted, size on the perimeter could be an issue -- the four ends above average 6'3, 236, and only one other linebacker is listed at 230 or higher -- but it wasn't easy to push WKU around last year, and it won't be this year either.

So that's one good thing. Now we just have to see if the new starters can come anywhere close to approximating the 42.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, and eight pass break-ups departed seniors managed a year ago.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jonathan Dowling S


12 61.0 9.9% 1 0 3 7 6 0
Arius Wright S 12 44.5 7.2% 8.5 3 1 1 0 0
Cam Thomas CB 6'1, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 36.5 5.9% 1.5 1 5 10 0 0
Tyree Robinson CB 12 36.0 5.8% 2.5 0 4 6 0 0
Rico Brown S 5'11, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 24.5 4.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Marcus Ward S 6'3, 204 So. 2 stars (5.3) 7 11.0 1.8% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Prince Charles Iworah CB 5'11, 193 Jr. NR 12 6.5 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
DeVante Thomas CB 5'10, 190 Sr. NR 12 6.0 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ricardo Singh S 5'11, 190 Sr. NR 10 6.0 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Wonderful Terry DB 5'10, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Forrest Coleman DB 6'2, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)
Martavius Mims DB 6'2, 183 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)






9. Cam Thomas is a stud

WKU's starting defensive backs combined for 13.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, 13 interceptions, and 24 pass break-ups in 2013, a fantastic total all around. Opponents chose to run the ball as much as humanly possible, and it's easy to see why. WKU's pass rush was decent, and its secondary was awesome. In Jonathan Dowling (a former four-star recruit and an NFL Draft early entry) and Arius Wright, the Hilltoppers had perhaps the best set of play-making safeties at the mid-major level. Both are gone, as is corner Tyree Robinson.

But at least Cam Thomas returns. Thomas is a lockdown corner who defensed 15 passes with only 36.5 tackles -- as I always say, a ratio like that means you're either preventing your man from catching the ball or you're a terrible tackler. I'm leaning on the former with Thomas.

Of course, having a strong cornerback only goes so far if your pass rush falls apart and the rest of your secondary is too young to be effective. There's going to be a lot of pressure on guys like JUCO transfers Wonderful Terry and Forrest Coleman, senior Rico Brown, and youngsters like Marcus Ward to play at a high level very quickly.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Hendrix Brakefield 31 39.4 0 12 14 83.9%
Joseph Occhipinti 6'3, 190 So. 6 32.8 1 2 1 50.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Hendrix Brakefield 37 62.7 11 1 29.7%
Joseph Occhipinti 6'3, 190 So. 19 59.1 0 1 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Garrett Schwettman 5'11, 160 Jr. 45-47 11-13 84.6% 2-3 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Antonio Andrews KR 15 20.9 0
Anthony Wales KR 5'10, 190 So. 13 20.9 0
Antonio Andrews PR 14 6.9 0
Willie McNeal PR 5'10, 180 Sr. 4 2.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 54
Field Goal Efficiency 51
Punt Return Efficiency 56
Kick Return Efficiency 35
Punt Efficiency 90
Kickoff Efficiency 80
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 41

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
28-Aug Bowling Green 60
6-Sep at Illinois 61
13-Sep at Middle Tennessee 99
27-Sep at Navy 67
4-Oct UAB 115
18-Oct at Florida Atlantic 103
25-Oct Old Dominion NR
1-Nov at Louisiana Tech 98
8-Nov UTEP 117
15-Nov Army 101
22-Nov UTSA 75
28-Nov at Marshall 59
Five-Year F/+ Rk -13.6% (99)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 84
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -10 / -4.8
TO Luck/Game -2.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 10 (7, 3)

10. A test of the upward trajectory

From 2008-12, WKU's F/+ rankings went from 116th to 114th to 99th to 93rd to 69th. The 'Toppers improved consistently under Taggart, then fell to only 77th (thanks mostly to that first month) in Petrino's one year. In terms of upward trajectory, this is impressive for a program so new to the FBS level.

WKU makes the leap to Conference USA this year, and one has to figure that from the standpoint of overall athleticism, the move will go just fine. The big question for 2014 is whether Brohm can avoid at least a one-year setback. He would be excused if it were to happen -- the running game and most of the defense must be rebuilt -- but he could score some major points by avoiding it.

The schedule is navigable if WKU can play at a top-100 level or so. Seven WKU opponents are projected 98th or worse in 2013, and home games against Bowling Green and UTSA are not out of reach. Even with a step backwards, the Hilltoppers could reach bowl eligibility. And in a conference with better bowl ties, they should be more well-positioned to actually make a bowl with seven or more wins, unlike 2011 and 2013.

We'll set the bar at six wins or so. WKU could certainly win more than that, but accounting for some early growing pains is probably a must for the Hilltoppers in 2014.

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