Conference USA


#92 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers





HEAD COACH: Jeff Brohm, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tyson Helton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Holt

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 92 Western Kentucky.

Previewing Western Kentucky’s Offense for 2014

Bobby Petrino’s cup of coffee as Western Kentucky coach produced 20 offensive school records (10 team, 10 individual) and an 8–4 record before he shuffled off to be Louisville’s coach again. The offensive wizard thought enough of Jeff Brohm to name him offensive coordinator, and WKU thought enough of the former Louisville quarterback and NFL backup to name him Petrino’s successor.

Those 10 offensive player records were split evenly between running back Antonio Andrews, the national leader in total yardage the last two seasons, and quarterback Brandon Doughty, who led the best offensive season (5,502 yards) in program history. Doughty set season records in passing yards (2,857) and completion percentage (65.8) and single-game marks in completions (29) and yardage (387).

With Brohm coaching, Doughty directing and six starters returning, the offense shouldn’t miss a beat, even if Andrews is gone and the level of competition is upgraded from the Sun Belt to Conference USA. Junior running back Leon Allen has breakout potential and is ready to take on the role of lead ball-carrier. Three returning receivers, led by senior Willie McNeal, are joined by junior college standout Jared Dangerfield. Tight end Mitchell Henry is reliable and productive.

Several contributors along an offensive line that paved the way for Andrews to set a WKU single-season rushing record return — although there could be some players switching positions. The group is led by senior right tackle Cam Clemmons, a fourth-year starter.

Previewing Western Kentucky’s Defense for 2014

It’s a misconception to assert that Petrino’s teams don’t play defense. The Hilltoppers finished 14th in the nation in total defense, with a 10th-ranked pass defense. Veteran coordinator Nick Holt has his hands full to try to reproduce those numbers with only two returning starters.

But one of those back is senior Cam Thomas, who’s among the top cornerbacks in the country. He led the Sun Belt and tied for 18th nationally with five interceptions. Secondary running mates are inexperienced but promising.

It’s a clean slate at linebacker, where WKU stayed within the family to sign Nick Holt, son of the defensive coordinator. One service ranked Holt the 11th-best junior college middle linebacker in the nation. Junior end Gavin Rocker is the only returning starter on the defensive front. At 6'1", 332 pounds, senior tackle Jamichael Payne has one last chance to live up to lofty expectations.

Previewing Western Kentucky’s Specialists for 2014

Junior Garrett Schwettman is a capable kicker who made seven field goals in a row during one stretch last season. He’s 23-of-29 (79.3 percent) over two seasons. Sophomore punter Joseph Occhipinti needs to improve on his average of 32.8 yards per punt (in part-time duty). The return game was hit hard by the loss of Andrews, who handled kickoff and punt duties. McNeal has the sure hands and athleticism to return punts.

Final Analysis

After seven seasons as an NFL backup quarterback with six teams, Brohm quickly transitioned to college coaching. A dozen years later, he is getting his first opportunity as a head coach. And of the 20 new coaches in the FBS ranks, Brohm is the only one promoted to the top job from the previous staff. Six assistants also stayed instead of following Petrino or jumping elsewhere. That rare continuity after a coaching change should bode well for a team that was snubbed for a bowl berth despite winning eight games. The Hilltoppers figure to have a tough time matching last year’s win total — the schedule is more difficult — but this is a program that can compete for C-USA titles in the near future.

More Stories:


#40 Marshall Thundering Herd





HEAD COACH: Doc Holliday, 27-24 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Legg | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Heater

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 40 Marshall.

Previewing Marshall’s Offense for 2014: 

You can be sure that one team that was opposed to the NCAA’s proposed slow-down rule was the Thundering Herd. Over the past two years with quarterback Rakeem Cato at the helm, no team has averaged more plays per game. Marshall’s hurry-up offense has produced back-to-back seasons of 500-plus yards of offense per game, and with Cato returning for his senior year, there is a good chance that streak will grow to three years in a row. Cato’s 39 touchdown passes in 2013 were third in the nation, and he spent the spring working on his deep balls.

The short-to-intermediate passing attack will be paced by first-team All-C-USA receiver Tommy Shuler, who has a chance to make NCAA history with his third straight 100-catch season. Tight end Eric Frohnapfel will have to replace Gator Hoskins, but showed in the spring he will also be a weapon in the middle of the field. The key to making Marshall’s offense even more productive will be the emergence of more consistent outside receivers. Davonte Allen is a special athlete. MU coaches have been waiting for Allen to break out, and he began to dominate late in the spring.

Up front, three starters return, led by first-team All-C-USA Chris Jasperse at center. The offensive line will pave the way for a new starting running back, which could be Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler or Remi Watson. All three should see the ball, with Grooms and Butler providing the home-run threats.

Previewing Marshall’s Defense for 2014: 

Marshall made big strides in 2013 on defense. Seven starters will return from a unit that trimmed its points allowed per game from 43.1 in 2012 to 22.9 last season — the biggest improvement in the nation. Sixth-year senior James Rouse returns at defensive tackle after earning first-team All-C-USA honors and will command the attention of opposing interior offensive lines. On the outside, Ra’Shawde Myers (5.5 sacks) is back, and he will be spelled by Miami (Fla.) transfer Ricardo Williams, who impressed in spring ball.

The team’s three top tacklers a year ago were all linebackers, which was impressive given how often Marshall played with just two linebackers on the field. All three are back, with Jermaine Holmes and Evan McKelvey slotted to be the two linebackers on the field the most. Neville Hewitt, Stefan Houston and converted safety D.J. Hunter should receive significant time as well.

In the secondary, Darryl Roberts and Corey Tindal will man the corners, with athletic Michael Johnson coming in as a new starter at nickel. At free safety, A.J. Leggett has beat out incumbent starter Taj Letman, while Tiquan Lang returns at strong safety after winning the job halfway through his freshman season.

Previewing Marshall’s Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Justin Haig returns after hitting 11-of-16 field goals with a long of 42 yards. Marshall may look at kickoff specialist Amoreto Curraj for anything beyond 40 yards. Punter Tyler Williams is also back. The Herd were 92nd in net punting a year ago, but Williams did pin Maryland inside its 10-yard line four times in the bowl victory. Deandre Reeves will likely handle both punt and kick return duties.

Final Analysis 

Could Marshall go undefeated? When Louisville had to postpone its 2014 date with the Herd due to an ACC-obligated matchup with Notre Dame, Rhode Island became Marshall’s final non-conference opponent. The Herd certainly should be favored each week as long as Cato remains healthy (backup QB is a big concern heading into the fall). The three teams that beat Marshall last year that are on the schedule this year all must visit Huntington, where Marshall has won eight straight. A highly productive offense led by an elite quarterback and solid, veteran defense could lift the Herd to a historic season.