#74 Western Kentucky Football 2016 Preview

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Overall Rank: #74
#3 Conference USA
Western Kentucky has very quietly built a strong, consistent program under the direction of head coach Jeff Brohm. The Hilltoppers won 12 games last season and won the Conference USA title, resulting in their best season in their short time as an FBS playing football program. Now, the 2016 season is going to be a fun test for Western Kentucky as they have to rebuild an offense that was absolutely off the charts at times with Brandon Doughty at quarterback. But, Doughty has moved on to the NFL and the battle to replace him in 2016 is going to be an interesting one to watch unfold.
2015 Record: 12-2, 8-0
2015 Bowl: Miami Beach Bowl vs. South Florida (W 45-35)
Coach: Jeff Brohm (20-7 at Western Kentucky, 20-7 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Brohm
Defensive Coordinator: Nick Holt
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Anthony Wales, RB, 1,091 yards
Passing: Nacarius Fant, WR, 76 yards
Receiving: Taywan Taylor, WR, 1,467 yards
Tackles: T.J. McCollum, LB, 106
Sacks: T.J. McCollum, LB, 3.0
Interceptions: 7 tied with 1
Other Key Returnees: RB D’Andre Ferby, WR Nicholas Norris, WR Kylen Towner, OL Forrest Lamp, C Max Halpin, DL Omarius Bryant,  S Branden Leston, S Marcus Ward
Key Losses: QB Brandon Doughty, WR Jared Dangerfield, WR Antwane Grant, TE Tyler Higbee, K Garrett Schwettman, LB Nick Holt, DB Prince Iworah, LB Dejon Brown
Experience within the supporting cast offensively and in the linebacking corps is going to help keep the Hilltoppers in the mix for Conference USA supremacy. Senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor is going to have to elevate his play even more after starting only five games last season. Taylor did accumulate nearly 1,500  receiving yards. The offensive line, led by Forrest Lamp and center Max Halpin, is going to be a very important aspect of  Western Kentucky’s success in 2016. They are going to have to protect whoever wins the quarterback job at a very high level. Defensively, the leading tackler from last season returns as linebacker T.J. McCollum had 106 tackles last season and WKU will need Keith Brown to step up and make big plays to offset some heavy losses to graduation on the defensive side of the football. The stability at head coach is another strength of this program as the Western Kentucky administration was able to sign Coach Brohm to a multiple year contract extension last offseason.
Finding a quarterback is going to be vital for the Hilltoppers as junior transfer Mike White has a slight lead in the race for the starting heading into the fall. One thing that will accelerate the growth of the new quarterback will be a strong running game. So it will be very crucial for Anthony Wales to set the tone early and pound away on opposing defenses while the quarterback position comes together. Depth along the defensive line is a concern so it will be very important for senior defensive tackle Omarius Bryant to clog up the middle to allow everyone else to pressure the quarterback. Special teams will need to be addressed quickly in 2016 as kicker Garrett Schwettman, the schools all-time leading scorer, has graduated. Sophomore Jake Collins will need to make some critical field goals early on in the season to build up his confidence by the time the heart of the Conference USA schedule starts up.
The Bottom Line:
The schedule starts out with an interesting first month that involves games with Rice in the opener followed by a trip to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. Then on September 24th, the Vanderbilt Commodores pay a visit to play Western Kentucky. This game is important due to the fact that it is an SEC opponent coming to play the Hilltoppers, which is a sign of this program’s growth. The two trickiest road games after the month of September will be on October 6th at Louisiana Tech and on November 26th at Marshall. If Western Kentucky can split those two games or even sweep, they will be in the Conference USA title conversation once again. In the end, look for some challenging moments early on in the season for the Hilltoppers, but they will find a way to probably win nine plus games in 2016.
Projected Bowl: Arizona Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 154.1 (89th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 372.2 (4, 1)
Total Offense: 526.4 (9, 1)
Scoring Offense: 44.3 (3, 1)
Rushing Defense: 165.6 (59, 5)
Pass Defense: 239.6 (85, 6)
Total Defense: 405.2 (72, 5)
Scoring Defense: 25.9 (53, 3)
Turnover Margin: 1.00 (4, 1)
Sacks: 1.86 (79, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 1.14 (13, 2)