#64 Western Kentucky Football 2017 Preview

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Overall Rank: #64
#2 Conference USA
Western Kentucky is continuing to develop a great reputation as a cradle of coaches as the Hilltoppers lost Jeff Brohm to Purdue last December after winning another Conference USA Championship. Thus, Western Kentucky will be looking to hit with another solid coaching hire for the fourth time in a row as Mike Sanford takes the heading coaching reins in 2017.
2016 Record: 11-3, 7-1
2016 Bowl: Boca Raton Bowl vs. Memphis, 51-31 W
Coach: Mike Sanford (0-0 at Western Kentucky, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Junior Adams
Defensive Coordinator: Clayton White
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Quinton Baker, RB, 542 yards
Passing: Mike White, QB, 4,363 yards
Receiving: Nacarius Fant, WR, 407 yards
Tackles: Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, 64
Sacks: Chris Johnson, DT, 4.0; Derik Overstreet, DE, 4.0
Interceptions: Tacorian Darden, DB, 2; Leverick Johnson, NB, 2
Other Key Returnees: LT Jimmie Sims, RB De’Andre Ferby, LG Brandon Ray, WR Lucky Jackson, CB Joe Brown, CB De’Andre Simmons, WR Kylen Towner, S Marcus Ward, RG Dennis Edwards
Key Losses:  LT Forrest Lamp, WR Nicholas Norris, WR Taywan Taylor, LB T.J. McCollum
Mike White is back at the quarterback position and that should allow the offense to seamlessly transition under the direction new offensive coordinator Junior Adams. White was brilliant in 2016, throwing for 4,363 yards. And more importantly he took care of the football very nicely as well. Quinton Baker and De’Andre Ferby will carry the load at running back as Baker and Ferby provide a nice mix of power and speed to keep defenses off balance. There will be a little bit of work to do out on the perimeter at wide receiver since Western Kentucky needs to replace Nicholas Norris and Taywan Taylor, who both have graduated. Nacarius Fant and Lucky Jackson will look to step in right away and take advantage of increased opportunities. Kylen Towner should be a dangerous threat as well in return game and add to the depth at wide receiver. The interior of the offensive line will be the strength of this unit with the return of Brandon Ray and Dennis Edwards.
Stopping the run at a high level was a gamechanger for the Hilltoppers last season as opponents were limited to 97.2 yards per game on the ground. Derik Overstreet and Chris Johnson are back along the defensive front and should flourish in Clayton White’s 4-2-5 scheme. Linebacker took a hit with T.J. McCollum following the old coaching staff to Purdue as a graduate transfer. However, Joel Iyiegbuniwe will be back and will need to have an 80-90 tackle type of season. Joe Brown and Leverick Johnson will be the two top playmakers in the secondary that will need to find a way to create some more turnovers early on in the season while the offense comes together.
The Bottom Line:
The schedule is not horrendous as a road trip to Illinois on September 9th is very winnable and so is the trip to Vanderbilt on November 4th. In conference play, the toughest road trips will be at Old Dominion on October 20th and at Florida International on November 25th as the Panthers should be improved under new head coach Butch Davis. Louisiana Tech should be the toughest conference home game on September 16th. Also, there is a trap game against Florida Atlantic on October 28th as you don’t what you will get with Lane Kiffin at the controls as Kiffin is very good at scheming offensively to take advantage of any defense. If the Hilltoppers can stay healthy on both sides of the ball and buy into what the new coaching staff is saying on a daily basis, then it should be another highly successful season in 2017.
Projected Bowl: St. Petersburg Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 186.4 (52nd in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 336.8 (5, 2)
Total Offense: 523.1 (5, 1)
Scoring Offense: 45.5 (1, 1)
Rushing Defense: 97.2 (2, 1)
Pass Defense: 279.4 (119, 11)
Total Defense: 376.6 (41, 2)
Scoring Defense: 24.6 (41, 1)
Turnover Margin: +0.14 (52, 5)
Sacks: 2.43 (35, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.57 (31, 3)