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.
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.