2011 Record: (7-5, 7-1 in Sun Belt)
Head Coach: Willie Taggart (9-15 at WKU, 9-7 in Sun Belt)
Last Bowl Game: 1963 Tangerine Bowl: Beat Coast Guard Bears 27-0
Big Name Opponents: 9/8 at Alabama, 9/15 at Kentucky
Must Win: 9/1 vs Austin Peay, 11/10 vs FAU
Revenge: 9/29 at Arkansas State
Stat to Cheer: allowed 8.4 less points per game in 2011 versus 2010.
Stat to Fear: WKU gained 4187 yards last year. RB Bobby Rainey ran for 1695, caught 36 passes for 362 yds and threw for 48 yards and a TD. He is in camp this year with the Baltimore Ravens.
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters (Offense: 9; Defense: 6; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Andrew Jackson (109 tackles), DL Quanterus Smith (6.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Kawaun Jakes (10 TD, 12 INT), TE Jack Doyle (52 rec)
WKU is a school that just recently transitioned into the FBS and as expected it was a difficult transition. Those difficulties looked like they would continue in 2011 as they dropped their first four games including a 44-16 loss at home to Indiana State. Then they gutted out an OT victory over MTSU and their fortunes changed. They went on a five game run that included wins over FIU and a much improved Louisiana squad. After losing to SEC Champion LSU, the Hilltoppers finished off their season by winning their last two games. WKU finished the year at 7-5 and 7-1 in the Sun Belt but were denied their first bowl game since the 60s. The big question now is, can they replicate this success without workhorse Bobby Rainey.
The offense for the Hilltoppers for this season will be a complete mystery as Rainey was truly a workhorse last season. The OL will be a strength with Adam Smith leading the way but more of the offense will be handed to Kawaun Jakes and how he does will largly predict how WKU does. The front seven of the defense should be strong as they are led by LB Andrew Jackson and DE Quanterus Smith and would expect the defense to continue to grow.
Willie Taggart has only been at WKU for two years (going on three) but they are no longer a push-over. They might not have the same amount of success this year in-conference but they will be competitive and are no doubt on the right track.
2012 Prediction: 5-7
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