The 2022 college football season kicks off on Saturday with Week 0, and the first game of the day stateside will take place in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Coming off a 9-5 season that included a 59-28 victory over Appalachian State in the Boca Raton Bowl, the WKU Hilltoppers are hoping to kick off the season positively at home against the Austin Peay Governors.
Austin Peay, an FCS member in the Ohio Valley Conference, is coming off its second winning season (6-5) in three campaigns, but it's still looking for its first FBS win since upsetting Kansas State in 1987. Over the past decade, the Governors are 0-15 in such games, only coming within five scores once (lost to Cincinnati 26-14 in 2017).
Saturday will be the third meeting between WKU and Austin Peay, schools that are separated by less than 70 miles, and the first time since 2012. The Hilltoppers have won both meetings in the series.
Austin Peay at WKU
Kickoff: Saturday, Aug. 27 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
When Austin Peay Has the Ball
Austin Peay will need to replace several key starters from last year's offense. The Governors lost their two top runners, quarterback Draylen Ellis, and three of their top four receivers.
The best offense for Austin Peay might be on the other side of the ball. Last season, the Governors were second in the FCS with 19 interceptions. WKU boasted the nation's top passing offense last season and averaged 50 pass attempts per game so if that trend continues, Austin Peay's defense can potentially set the offense up with some short fields if it can generate some takeaways.
When WKU Has the Ball
After adopting much of the Houston Baptist offense through the addition of the Huskies' former offensive coordinator Zach Kittley and quarterback Bailey Zappe, the Hilltoppers lit up the scoreboard and set numerous records last season. Kittley is now in the same role at Texas Tech while Zappe is in the NFL, so WKU is somewhat starting over on offense.
Head coach Tyson Helton is employing a committee to lead this side of the ball with Ben Arbuckle (quarterbacks), Josh Crawford (wide receivers), and Zach Langford (offensive line) all serving as co-offensive coordinators. Helton also dipped back into the transfer portal to find his signal-caller with West Florida transfer Austin Reed beating out West Virginia graduate transfer Jarret Doege for the starting job. Doege has since reportedly enrolled at Troy.
Reed is coming off of a big season for West Florida, a Division II program, throwing for 3,418 yards, 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Reed's Argonauts went 9-2 in 2021, losing to Newberry College in the first round of the playoffs.
Reed has never played in an FBS game and has big shoes to fill as Zappe threw for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns, both single-season FBS records. As a team, the Hilltoppers were No. 2 in both total (536.2 ypg) and scoring (44.2 ppg) offense. Besides Zappe, the top two wide receivers (Jerreth Sterns and Mitchell Tinsley) are gone as well. Several targets from last season return, a group that's led by Daewood Davis (43 rec., 763 yds., 8 TDs) and Malachi Coley (73, 691, 7), and the receiving corps also has added MAC transfers Michael Mathison and Jaylen Hall.
Austin Peay, with its defense, won't be a pushover for WKU. However, the Hilltoppers have a huge advantage offensively. While several pieces from last season's prolific offense are gone, the Hilltoppers still return plenty of talent at the skill positions, including running back.
If WKU gets off to a fast start at home, it could be difficult for the FCS Governors to come back. Austin Peay's best hope is that its defense can keep this game from becoming a blowout.
Prediction: WKU 51, Austin Peay 21
Podcast: Complete Week 0 Preview, Predictions, Fall Practice Updates, the Big Ten's New TV Deal and Favorite Over/Unders for 2022
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders, and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.