Today, we’re 97 days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll review the No. 97 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
In spite of finishing 7-5 and enjoying one of the best finishes in the history of the program, Western Kentucky didn’t get a call for a bowl game to the consternation of many in Bowling Green.
Unfortunately, for Hilltoppers fans, that 7-5 finish may be the best they see for some time.
There’s really only one name you need to know that illustrates how different the WKU offense will look in 2012: Bobby Rainey. Rainey, who surprisingly went un-drafted last month in the 2012 NFL Draft, was signed not too long after the draft ended as a free agent by the Baltimore Ravens. Rainey carried the ball 369 times for 1810 yards and 13 touchdowns and was beyond a workhorse for head coach Willie Taggart.
Quarterback Kawaun Jakes should enter the fall as the team’s starter, and will be looking for huge contributions from wideouts Jack Doyle and Boe Brand who were No. 1 and No.3 overall in receiving yardage for the Hilltoppers last season. To further drive home how important Bobby Rainey was to Western Kentucky, he was No. 2.
The task of trying to replicate at least some of Rainey’s production on the ground should fall to highly-touted freshman Anthony Wales and junior Keshawn Simpson, who will most likely work as a platoon.
It’s a huge hill to climb for WKU to establish the same offensive presence they had in 2011, and it’s difficult to imagine they’ll even get close.
The Hilltoppers’ 2011 defensive unit gave up a total of 4,485 yards of offense, an average of 373.8 YPG while averaging only 348.9 per game themselves. Obviously, the 7-5 record was attributable to the ball control that Bobby Rainey allowed, and kept the defense off the field with consistency.
This season, the six returning WKU defensive starters will need to take more control to ensure the team’s overall success in the Sun Belt Conference, in which they should again be among the top teams.
Junior linebacker Andrew Jackson will anchor the defensive unit and will be looking for a repeat performance of his 109 tackle, 3.5 sack campaign from 2011. Junior linebacker Xavius Boyd and junior defensive back Tyree Robinson will be two other key players for the Hilltoppers in 2012.
An inexperienced defensive front will depend on consistent performances from the second and third-line for WKU to be a success in 2012.
The 2012 season schedule is full of landmines for WKU and certainly will not make things any easier. After a home opener against Austin Peay, the Hilltoppers travel to Tuscaloosa to face the Alabama Crimson Tide in Week 2 and face-off against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in Week 4.
If Western Kentucky can somehow get through these four weeks with two wins, they can enter Sun Belt play with some momentum and make another run toward a bowl game in 2012.
Three losses in the early going will likely continue the school’s streak of no bowl appearances which goes back to 1963.