2013 Pre-Season Preview: WKU Hilltoppers

2012 Record: 7-6 (4-4 in Sun Belt)

Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (First Year at WKU, 75-26 All-Time)

Last Bowl Game: 2012 LIttle Caesars Bowl: lost to CMU 24-21

Stadium: "The Houch" in Bowling Green, KY (capacity = 22,113)

Home Field Advantage: ranked 29th out of 55 mid-major teams

Schedule Glimpse:

2013 Schedule Link

Out of conference: 8/31 vs Kentucky, 9/7 at Tennessee, 9/21 vs Morgan St

Revenge: 10/3 at ULM,10/15 vs Louisiana

Service Academies: 9/28 vs Navy, 11/9 at Army 


Statistical Snapshot:

2012 Statistics Link

Stat to Fear: gave up 66 rushes of 10 or more yards (last in Sun Belt)

Stat to Cheer: 97 tackles for loss in 2012 (led Sun Belt, 10th in Nation)

Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 66th out of 124 teams



Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense 7, Special Teams 2

Key Defensive Returnees: LB Andrew Jackson (17.5 TFL, 122 tackles), DB Jonathan Dowling (68 tackles, 6 INT), LB Xavius Boyd (7.5 TFL, 79 tackles), DB Cam Thomas (43 tackles, 3 INT), DB Kiante Young (83 tackles)

Key Offensive Returnees: RB Antonio Andrews (1733 yds rush, 5.7 ypc, 11 TD, 37 rec), WR Willie McNeal (43 rec, 6 TD)

Top Recruits: OT Joe Fennell, QB Todd Porter, DT D'Von Isaac


Inside Scoop with Chad Bishop of the Bowling Green Daily News:

CFBZ: After back-to-back 7-5 seasons, Willie Taggart moves on to USF and has been replaced by Bobby Petrino! What has been the overall response to Petrino so far on campus and from the fanbase?
Chad Bishop: As of the moment, all seems quiet on the Western front. Of course, no games have been played, so the anticipation of a new season with a talented team with a new and proven coach has created positive vibes for WKU. Most seem to be willing to overlook Petrino's past personal transgressions and profressional short-comings for a taste of serious success – even if it only lasts for one or two seasons, assuming Petrino makes his tenure in Bowling Green a short one.
CFBZ: Which players will benefit the most from Petrino's offensive system?
Chad Bishop: Certainly, the quarterbacks and the wide receivers. Under Taggart, WKU wide receivers were primarily blockers and the quarterbacks were game-managers focused on controlling the clock, utilizing the running game and sliging it to their tight ends. Petrino is noted for developing his QBs and demanding they throw the ball with precision and at a high rate. While Petrino's wide receiver corps is thin on depth, there are some talented pieces that could have breakout statistical seasons.
CFBZ: Looking at the schedule, what games do WKU fans have circled on the calendar?
Chad Bishop: Without question, the Aug. 31 opener against the University of Kentucky in Nashville. The Hilltoppers went to Lexington in 2012 and pulled off a 32-31 win in overtime, but this one will have way more attention directed toward it when considering Petrino and new UK coach Mark Stoops will both be making their debuts. The Sept. 7 game at Tennessee is also of keen interest, especially if the Hilltoppers are able to beat Kentucky for a second straight year and are staring at a 2-0 start over back-to-back SEC opponents.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?

Chad Bishop: In my eyes? Another trip to a postseason bowl and maybe another win or two. Posting seven wins in consecutive seasons and returning a very talented defense should make WKU a serious contender in the Sun Belt in 2013. Quarterback play will be an issue early on, but games against South Alabama, Morgan State, Georgia State and Army should provide wins and WKU posted wins in 2012 against three other opponents on this season's schedule. A tens-win season would be a fantastic run for the Hilltoppers, but seven or eight wins is more likely.



Willie Taggart had the Hilltoppers headed in the right direction posting back-to-back 7-5 regular seasons and taking them bowling in 2012. Taggart departed to USF and the Hilltoppers have made the controversial hire of Bobby Petrino. Petrino has an outstanding career college record of 75-26 but he's burned bridges and acted unprofessionally throughout his career. Will Petrino's time at WKU be a redemption or is he simply here to win games and burn more bridges? One thing to look at is how Petrino fared in his first year at each of his collegiate stops. At Louisville in 2003, Petrino was a first time head coach and increased their win total by two games finishing at 9-4 after going 7-6 under a previous coach in 2002. At Arkansas, Petrino had to take a step backward before he could move the Hogs forward. In 2007, they went 8-4 under Houston Nutt and finished just 5-7 the next year under Petrino. 

WKU must replace four year starter at QB Kawaun Jakes and 2012 back-up James Mauro has requested a transfer. That leaves Brandon Doughty and DaMarcus Smith as the favorites with Todd Porter and JUCO Nelson Fishback coming in this fall. Doughty is a junior who went 1 for 3 last season but threw for 314 yards and 5 TDs in the spring game and he is the leader in the clubhouse. Whoever wins the starting QB job can lean on RB Antonio Andrews. Andrews ran for 133 yards per game last season which was fifth in the Nation. Andrews also had 37 receptions out of the backfield so look for him to be a huge part of Petrino's game plan. The Hilltoppers have some talent at receiver and they also return talent on the offensive line as they have three players returning with 19 or more starts.

The biggest hole to fill will be on defense where Quanterus Smith has taken his 12.5 sacks to the NFL. The defensive line loses it's top five tacklers so the d-line could quickly go from a strength in 2012 to a weakness in 2013. The good news is that WKU is stacked at LB so they should be able to pick up some slack if the DL doesn't come together right away. WKU also have a good defensive backfield with what is probably the best tandem of safeties in the Sun Belt. 

WKU will be a question mark under Petrino until they hit the field but I would expect the Hilltoppers to be pretty good this year as they return a lot of talent and they don't have a killer schedule. The worst case scenario looks like 5-7 or 6-6 but I'd peg this as more of an 8-4 team with the ability to do better depending on how they start. Depending on how quickly Petrino's offense kicks in and if the defensive line can recoup it's losses we could be looking at a WKU team that wins it's first Sun Belt Championship.


Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews:

C-USA- FAUSouthern Miss
Independent: Georgia StateOld Dominion
Sun Belt- Texas StateULM
The American- Memphis
Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, writer for Crystal Ball Run and founder of College Football Zealots