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1. Hello, Coach Petrino.
This winter, watching the Bobby Petrino Sweepstakes, I learned something about myself. Granted, it was probably something I already knew to some degree, but it was very much affirmed: I treat major-conference teams and mid-majors completely differently.
When Petrino, who was fired from Arkansas after lying about the circumstances surrounding a motorcycle accident (to put it as blandly as possible), was being courted by any number of schools after sitting out the 2012 season, I felt very different about his candidacy at Auburn than I did at Arkansas State or, eventually, Western Kentucky. I felt he needed to pay his dues again at the mid-major level, as some sort of atonement process or something; getting hired by Auburn would be receiving a shortcut he didn't deserve, but taking a Sun Belt job, even if just for a year, was perfectly acceptable. It doesn't make a lot of sense, really -- his atonement already consisted of humiliation, a damaged marriage, loss of a mega-salary and a job at which he was nearly worshipped; but the brain is an odd place sometimes.
I'd have hated Auburn hiring him; I loved Western Kentucky hiring him.
Simply put, Bobby Petrino wins games. In his eight years as an FBS head coach, he has won at least eight games seven times, and he has won at least 10 four times. Despite his open, public flirtation with other schools, he continued to win games at Louisville (41 in four seasons), and while public goodwill may have eroded with the way he left both the Louisville and Atlanta Falcons jobs, Arkansas fans probably didn't care much about that when he went 8-5 in 2009, 10-3 in 2010 and 11-2 in 2011. The guy is a guru for college quarterbacks, and while defense has never been an extreme strong suit, a) his defense is typically good enough to get out of the offense's way, and b) he still maximizes talent like few coaches can. He never reeled in elite recruiting classes at Louisville or Arkansas, but he continuously produced high-level offensive talent.
Because of this, he 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.
2. Okay, one more time, and then we move on.
3. Arkansas Lite.
At WKU, Petrino inherits offensive personnel that, in terms of the eyeball test, should seem awfully familiar.
In towering quarterback James Mauro, he has what looks (physically) like a Ryan Mallett clone. In running back Antonio Andrews, he has a big, strong, exciting back not unlike pre-injury Knile Davis. And while his receiving corps is rather small in stature, its potential depth could bring to mind the absurdly deep 2011 Arkansas receiving corps that featured Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Chris Gragg, Cobi Hamilton, Greg Childs and numerous good-hands running backs. Former head coach Willie Taggart was a run-first-then-throw-to-the-tight-ends kind of guy, but the transition from Taggart's system to Petrino's might actually go surprisingly well.
(Granted, I said the same thing when Mike Leach went to Washington State, so you probably shouldn't take this to the bank. But still.)
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 69|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Austin Peay||49-10||W||36.0 - 20.7||W|
|8-Sep||at Alabama||0-31||L||21.3 - 25.1||L|
|15-Sep||at Kentucky||32-31||W||21.1 - 29.2||L|
|22-Sep||Southern Miss||42-17||W||37.2 - 32.5||W|
|29-Sep||at Arkansas State||26-13||W||36.1 - 13.9||W|
|11-Oct||at Troy||31-26||W||27.1 - 23.5||W|
|20-Oct||UL-Monroe||42-43||L||26.3 - 31.2||L|
|27-Oct||at Florida International||14-6||W||22.8 - 23.6||L|
|1-Nov||Middle Tennessee||29-34||L||36.2 - 26.4||W|
|10-Nov||Florida Atlantic||28-37||L||18.8 - 27.7||L|
|17-Nov||at UL-Lafayette||27-31||L||35.0 - 41.0||L|
|24-Nov||North Texas||25-24||W||26.9 - 22.0||W|
|26-Dec||vs. Central Michigan||21-24||L||24.8 - 27.5||L|
|Points Per Game||28.2||70||25.5||51|
|Adj. Points Per Game||28.4||62||26.5||51|
4. What could have been.
The future could be awfully bright for WKU, especially if Petrino stays for a period longer than that of a Redbox rental, but there still have to be at least a few pangs of regret in Bowling Green about the way the 2012 season ended. Never mind that the Hilltoppers lost a tremendous head coach at season's end (former WKU quarterback Willie Taggart inherited a program that had lost 22 of 24 games and crafted back-to-back 7-5 seasons in 2011-12); before that even happened, WKU had already suffered through a crushing series of missed opportunities.
With road wins over Arkansas State and Troy, the Hilltoppers had become the slam-dunk Sun Belt favorite heading into mid-October. But a crushing home loss to UL-Monroe set the table for a late-season slide. WKU led ULM, 28-7, late in the second quarter, but the Warhawks scored a 30-yard touchdown with no time left in the first half, scored a 12-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in the second half, then went for two and the win, and got it, in the game's first overtime period to hand WKU a shocking 43-42 loss. WKU would end up losing five of seven to end the season.
Adj. Points Per Game (First 6 games): Western Kentucky 29.8, Opponent 24.2 (plus-5.6)
Adj. Points Per Game (Last 7 games): Opponent 28.5, Western Kentucky 27.3 (minus-1.2)
The offense regressed a little, the defense regressed a lot, and what looked like a potential 11-1 season turned into a disappointing 7-5.
|Q1 Rk||64||1st Down Rk||77|
|Q2 Rk||79||2nd Down Rk||59|
|Q3 Rk||64||3rd Down Rk||81|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|James Mauro||6'7, 227||So.||** (5.2)||12||18||172||66.7%||2||1||0||0.0%||9.6|
|Brandon Doughty||6'3, 196||Jr.||*** (5.5)||1||3||7||33.3%||0||0||0||0.0%||2.3|
|DaMarcus Smith||6'1, 180||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Todd Porter||6'3, 180||Fr.||** (5.4)|
5. You're welcome, James Mauro.
I mean, of all the people excited about the Petrino hire, Mauro would have to be No. 1, right? Well, Mauro or whoever wins the starting job? (Three other quarterbacks, including one-time Louisville commit DaMarcus Smith, all came to town with a higher recruiting profile than Mauro.)
|Antonio Andrews||RB||6'0, 211||Sr.||*** (5.5)||304||1,733||5.7||5.3||11||+20.9|
|Leon Allen||RB||6'0, 235||So.||** (5.4)||56||317||5.7||8.3||2||+4.1|
|Keshawn Simpson||RB||6'0, 237||Sr.||** (5.0)||20||101||5.1||6.3||1||-0.9|
|Kadeem Jones||FB||5'11, 246||Sr.||** (5.3)||17||84||4.9||10.4||3||+0.0|
|Marquis Sumler||RB||5'9, 175||So.||*** (5.5)||16||59||3.7||1.6||0||-3.0|
|Ben Axon||RB||6'2, 195||Sr.||**** (5.8)||8||34||4.3||10.5||0||-1.0|
|Anthony Wales||RB||5'9, 183||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Willie McNeal||WR||5'10, 163||Jr.||** (4.9)||74||43||556||58.1%||7.5||23.4%||52.7%||7.5||76.8|
|Antonio Andrews||RB||6'0, 211||Sr.||*** (5.5)||51||37||432||72.5%||8.5||16.1%||49.0%||9.1||59.7|
|Mitchell Henry||TE||6'4, 245||Jr.||*** (5.5)||23||13||195||56.5%||8.5||7.3%||60.9%||8.5||26.9|
|Kadeem Jones||FB||5'11, 246||Sr.||** (5.3)||22||14||180||63.6%||8.2||7.0%||68.2%||8.3||24.9|
|Rico Brown||WR||5'11, 185||Jr.||** (5.4)||20||13||194||65.0%||9.7||6.3%||40.0%||11.1||26.8|
|Austin Aikens||WR||5'11, 180||So.||*** (5.6)||13||8||217||61.5%||16.7||4.1%||92.3%||10.9||30.0|
|Boe Brand||WR||6'0, 156||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||12||151||92.3%||11.6||4.1%||38.5%||12.0||20.9|
|Tim Gorski||TE||6'7, 253||So.||** (5.4)||4||1||15||25.0%||3.8||1.3%||75.0%||3.0||2.1|
|Nick Baisch||FB||5'11, 251||Sr.||NR||2||2||5||100.0%||2.5||0.6%||100.0%||1.5||0.7|
|Andrew Pettijohn||WR||5'8, 188||Sr.||NR||1||1||7||100.0%||7.0||0.3%||100.0%||4.2||1.0|
|Lonnie Turner||WR||5'10, 175||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Shaquille Johnson||TE||6'4, 215||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Nicholas Norris||WR||5'10, 170||Fr.||** (5.4)|
6. The toybox is stocked.
In the Taggart offense, young receivers Rico Brown, Austin Aikens and Boe Brand were luxuries. About three to four times per game, then-quarterback Kawaun Jakes would look downfield, probably after a steady dose of Antonio Andrews and a play-action fake, and find one of these players, probably Brown (14.9 yards per catch) or Aikens (27.1), for a lovely gain.
In a Petrino offense, these players will lose the surprise aspect but will probably see quite a few more targets in a given game. If they can still provide a decent downfield threat, then combined with Andrews, a host of interesting backup running backs, the steady Willie McNeal and tight end Mitchell Henry, WKU should have too many weapons for most opponents on the schedule.
And while all-conference right guard Adam Smith is gone, the Hilltoppers return four players with starting experience up front (82 career starts), including three-year starting center Sean Conway. There's a lot to like here.
|Adam Smith||RG||47 career starts; 2012 1st All-Sun Belt|
|Sean Conway||C||6'3, 305||Sr.||** (5.1)||37 career starts|
|Luis Polanco||LG||6'2, 295||Sr.||** (5.2)||24 career starts|
|Cameron Clemmons||LT||6'6, 305||Jr.||*** (5.6)||19 career starts|
|Seth White||RT||18 career starts|
|Luke Stansfield||LG||5 career starts|
|Ed Hazelett||LT||6'8, 318||Sr.||*** (5.6)||2 career starts|
|Delryn Wilson||RT||6'3, 308||So.||** (5.4)|
|Connor Popeck||OL||6'4, 280||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Johnny Delaney||OL||6'6, 310||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Joe Fennell||OL||6'5, 320||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Donald Rocker||OL||6'4, 296||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Kyle Jones||OL||6'4, 290||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Justin Martinez||OL||6'3, 264||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Q1 Rk||82||1st Down Rk||54|
|Q2 Rk||62||2nd Down Rk||30|
|Q3 Rk||75||3rd Down Rk||94|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Gavin Rocker||DE||6'2, 230||So.||** (5.4)||12||11.5||1.7%||4||3||0||0||0||1|
|Calvin Washington||DE||6'5, 264||Sr.||*** (5.6)||8||7.5||1.1%||2||1||0||2||0||0|
|Bryan Shorter||DT||6'2, 274||So.||** (5.3)||10||5.0||0.7%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Jamichael Payne||DT||6'1, 336||Jr.||** (5.4)||6||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Raphael Cox||DE||6'3, 270||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Maurice Bennett||DT||6'3, 290||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|DeMarcus Glover||DE||6'5, 235||Fr.||** (5.4)|
WKU had one of the best mid-major front sevens in the country in 2012; hell, they had one of the better front sevens, period. End Quanterus Smith was a destructive force on passing downs, tackle Jamarcus Allen was disruptive on the interior, five other linemen logged at least two tackles for loss, and generally speaking, the line made life really easy for a fantastic set of linebackers. The defense faded as the year progressed (among other things, Smith missed the final two games of the season), but this was still a very, very high-quality unit.
Of the six primary members of the line rotation, however, five are now gone. Only two returning linemen logged more than 5.0 tackles, and while Gavin Rocker showed potential as a speed rusher (4.0 of his 11.5 tackles were behind the line, and 3.0 were sacks), the pressure is on Rocker and a bunch of newcomers to keep pressure off of a linebacking corps that does return mostly intact.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Andrew Jackson||MIKE||6'1, 265||Sr.||** (5.3)||13||100.0||14.5%||17.5||2||0||1||4||0|
|Xavius Boyd||MIKE||6'2, 235||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||60.5||8.8%||7.5||0.5||1||0||0||0|
|Bar'ee Boyd||SAM||6'1, 227||Sr.||** (5.4)||13||23.0||3.3%||6.5||3.5||0||0||1||0|
|Terran Williams||WILL||6'2, 222||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||14.5||2.1%||2||1||0||1||0||0|
|Daerius Washington||LB||6'0, 202||So.||*** (5.6)||10||8.5||1.2%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|T.J. Smith||LB||6'2, 239||Jr.||*** (5.5)||11||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Daqual Randall||MIKE||6'0, 245||So.||*** (5.6)||11||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chuck Franks||LB||6'2, 231||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Julian Leslie||LB||6'3, 228||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Isaac Tanner||LB||6'1, 225||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Devanta Ducios||LB||6'0, 216||Fr.||** (5.4)|
8. And what a linebacking corps this is.
That is not a typo: Andrew Jackson really is 265 pounds, and he really did log 100.0 tackles and nearly 20 tackles for loss from the middle linebacker position. Again, life was pretty easy for Jackson, Xavius Boyd, Bar'ee Boyd and company with the attention the line demanded, but this might be the most proven mid-major linebacking corps in the country. You rarely see this many former three-star prospects in a Sun Belt unit, and you rarely see this much production returning from one year to another.
It is difficult to imagine the WKU linebackers improving on last year's numbers considering the green front four, but Jackson, et al, should assure that the negative impact of the new line is minimized to some degree. A tremendous pair of safeties (Kiante Young and Florida transfer Jonathan Dowling) will help, too.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kiante Young||SS||5'11, 220||Sr.||** (4.9)||13||71.0||10.3%||2.5||0||0||7||1||1|
|Jonathan Dowling||FS||6'3, 198||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||54.0||7.8%||2.5||0||6||7||2||0|
|Tyree Robinson||CB||5'10, 196||Sr.||** (5.4)||13||45.5||6.6%||2.5||0||0||3||0||0|
|Cam Thomas||CB||6'1, 190||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||38.5||5.6%||2||0||3||7||0||1|
|Brett Harrington||CB||6'0, 180||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||31.0||4.5%||2||0||2||2||0||0|
|Arius Wright||CB||5'10, 189||Sr.||** (5.3)||13||30.5||4.4%||3||1||1||6||1||2|
|Vince Williams||SS||5'9, 198||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||8.5||1.2%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Prince Charles Iworah||DB||5'10, 176||So.||NR||1||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darryl Gilchrist||DB||6'3, 190||Sr.||NR||2||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Rashad Greene||DB||6'1, 180||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|De'Andre Simmons||DB||5'11, 180||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Hendrix Brakefield||6'4, 235||Sr.||45||42.1||4||10||14||53.3%|
|Jesse Roy||6'0, 189||Jr.||56||58.2||3||5.4%|
|Hendrix Brakefield||6'4, 235||Sr.||13||57.8||2||15.4%|
|Garrett Schwettman||5'11, 160||So.||42-43||9-11||81.8%||1-2||50.0%|
|Jesse Roy||6'0, 189||Jr.||0-0||0-2||0.0%||0-0||N/A|
|Antonio Andrews||KR||6'0, 211||Sr.||28||27.4||0|
|Rico Brown||KR||5'11, 185||Jr.||6||24.0||0|
|Willie McNeal||KR||5'10, 163||Jr.||5||18.2||0|
|Antonio Andrews||PR||6'0, 211||Sr.||19||12.3||1|
|Special Teams F/+||70|
|Field Goal Pct||75|
|Kick Returns Avg||17|
|Punt Returns Avg||31|
9. Learn the pop-up, love the pop-up.
Kickoffs just killed WKU in 2012. The rest of the special teams unit was solid -- Antonio Andrews is as good a return man as he is a running back, Garrett Schwettman is a steady place-kicker, and about half of Hendrix Brakefield's* punts were either fair-caught or downed inside the 20. But Brakefield and Jesse Roy combined to boot touchbacks on kickoffs just seven percent of the time, and a WKU kickoff was nearly guaranteed to result in quality field position for the opponent.
If Petrino and special teams coach Ricky Brumfield can figure out how to master the art of the pop-up kickoff -- where the goal is height and minimal returns instead of depth -- this unit, top to bottom, could be a strength instead of one of overall neutral impact.
* That's really his name.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||108|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||102|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / +3.2|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (6, 7)|
10. WKU could be favored to win up to 10 games.
We don't know the home-road status of the Sun Belt schedule, and we don't know who WKU will schedule for its 12th game yet. But with seven known opponents projected 90th or worse, and only two projected better than 78th, the Hilltoppers could be expected to see quite a bit of success in Petrino's first year.
Whether WKU can live up to expectations will be determined by the magnitude of the drop-off in the Hilltoppers' defensive line and the speed with which the offense can learn and adapt to the new style and terminology. Petrino did go 5-7 in his first year at Arkansas, after all, so it's not an outright slam dunk that WKU will immediately thrive. But you have to like the mix of personnel and coaching acumen.
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