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BOZICH: Hilltoppers scheduled to take next step | WKU

Reposted from WDRB- Louisville
By Rick Bozich – email
For the first time since 2005, WKU starts its season in Bowling Green.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The Western Kentucky football team will have a chance to be the bully to start this season – something that hasn’t happened since the Hilltoppers lived in the world of Division I-AA.

As we inch closer to the start of college football, I found a copy of WKU‘s 2012 football poster. Seemed like a good time to scope out the Toppers’ season. Optimism and enthusiasm reign in Bowling Green after Willie Taggart’s team roared to a 7-1 finish – after an 0-4 start.WKU

WKU beat the Florida International team that defeated Louisville.

WKU beat the Middle Tennessee State team that defeated Big East recruit Memphis.

WKU handled the North Texas team that defeated Indiana.

It’s not like beating USC, Oklahoma and Ohio State, but it was worth a confetti toss from a program that went 2-10 and 0-12 the two previous seasons. It certainly kicked up recognition in the football blogosphere. One college football blog, www.PreSnapRead.com, ranks WKU ahead of UK, IU, Maryland, Colorado, Boston College, Mississippi, Duke, Temple and Kansas to start this season.

Yes, those are programs from BCS leagues.

Instead of traveling to Florida, Nebraska, LSU or Tennessee, the Hilltoppers start 2012 in an unlikely place – home, against Austin Peay, which finished 3-8 as an FCS team last season. I wonder if the Governors are getting a check to drive over to WKU.

It’s the first time WKU has kicked off its season in Bowling Green since 2005. Justin Bieber didn’t open on the road as often as the Hilltoppers.

WKU officially began 2011 with a home game, but it was a home game with a solid group of Kentucky fans sprinkled into the scene at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. That’s no home game.

Here are the teams WKU has played in its last half-dozen openers: UK, Nebraska, Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, Georgia.

Here is the combined margin of defeat for WKU:  206 points.

Here is the average margin of defeat in those openers:  34.3 points.

Ouch.

Here is what I expect from WKU this season: 6-6.

The Toppers’ are not scheduled for success, despite the opener with Austin Peay.

Their second and third games are on the road at Alabama and UK (and I know they’ll be the trendy upset pick against the Wildcats, but WKU will be an underdog in Commonwealth Stadium).

Then comes a home game against a formidable Southern Miss team. The Golden Eagles were 12-2 with the 20th ranked rushing attack in the nation last season. But they lost their coach, starting quarterback and 10 other starters.

Swing Game in the WKU season? Sure looks like it. Southern Miss has talent and speed. It’s just inexperienced talent. It’s not only a Swing Game; it’s a Statement Game for Taggart’s program.

That game is followed by back-to-back road trips against teams that typically contend in the Sun Belt  — Arkansas State (picked second) and Troy (picked fifth after slipping from the perch of winning four consecutive league titles).

A 2-4 start would be a nice achievement. A 1-5 start would be understandable, especially with WKU replacing Bobby Rainey at tailback, receiver, return specialist, assistant coach, blogger, recruiting coordinator and halftime entertainment.

After that, if the Toppers can stay healthy, WKU can get on another nice roll.

The offense needs a few new functional parts, but the defense is led by the inimitable Andrew Jackson, a 260-pounder that www.PreSnapRead.com, nominates as the Sun Belt Conference defensive player of the year.

One problem: Jackson will have to outplay Florida transfer Jonathan Dowling, a safety that WKU found a landing spot for after he was dismissed from the Gators’ program.

The Hilltoppers play four of their final six at home, including a Thursday night (Nov. 1) visit from Middle Tennessee that will be televised on ESPNU.

If Willie Taggart’s team can survive the first-half of the season, WKU can deliver a winning season – and perhaps this time the Hilltoppers will be rewarded with a bowl appearance.

Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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