#94 Western Kentucky 2018 Football Preview

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Overall Rank: #94
#8 Conference USA
 Western Kentucky Logo
The 2017 season was a typical transition season with a new coaching staff for Western Kentucky. Mike Sanford took over for Jeff Brohm, who left for Purdue. It was a nice start to the first season for Coach Sanford as the Hilltoppers went 5-2 in their first seven games before a 1-5 finish. Looking ahead to 2018, you would expect things to go more smoothly on the practice field and on game day. Now, the question is will it show up with more wins on Saturday?
2017 Record: 6-7, 4-4
2017 Bowl: Cure Bowl vs. Georgia State (L 17-27)
Coach: Mike Sanford (6-7 at Western Kentucky, 6-7 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Junior Adams
Defensive Coordinator: Clayton White
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: D’Andre Ferby, RB, 408 yards
Passing: Drew Eckels, QB, 86 yards
Receiving: Lucky Jackson, WR, 600 yards
Tackles: Devon Key, DB, 94
Sacks: Two players with 1.5
Interceptions: Drell Green, DB, 2
Other Key Returnees: C Dennis Edwards, RG Miles Pete, RT Cole Spencer, LB Ben Holt, DT Julien Lewis, DL DeAngelo Malone, K Ryan Nuss, P Jake Collins, RB Jakairi Moses, WR Xavier Lane, TE Mik’Quan Deane
Key Losses: DL Derik Overstreet, QB Mike White, LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe, WR Nacarius Fant, TE Deon Yelder
Last season the inability to run the ball cost the Hilltoppers as they finished dead last in FBS football, gaining just 60.8 yards per game on the ground. Part of the issue was the need for Coach Sanford and the offensive staff to make things work with personnel that was recruited for a different system. The quarterback issue will need to be resolved as Western Kentucky will need to replace Mike White. Drew Eckels is back as a senior and should be the starter when the Hilltoppers kick the season off on August 31st. D’Andre Ferby is back at running back and should see a natural increase in his production as the offense develops a better balance between run and pass. Lucky Jackson will lead a group of about three guys at wide receiver that will need to step up and make big plays down the field. If Western Kentucky can’t keep opposing defenses honest with more balance in their attack it will result in their offensive line being under siege all season long as teams will stack eight or nine guys in the box.
This unit will be critical to the success of the 2018 season for Western Kentucky. Devon Key is the leading returning tackler with 94 and he leads an experienced secondary that includes Drell Greene, Ta’Corian Darden, and DeAndre Farris. They will need to continue to grow in 2018 and create more turnovers as the turnover margin last season was -0.62. Carson Jordan and Julien Lewis will anchor the defensive line that needs to cause more havoc with the pass rush in 2018. DeAngelo Malone is a talented returning pass rusher and Evan Sayner is another one to watch along the defensive front.
The Bottom Line:
One positive about the 2017 season for the Hilltoppers was their ability to take advantage of a lighter schedule in the first half of the season as they started 5-2. However, the second half of the season told a different story when the schedule got tougher and injuries took a toll and Western Kentucky finished 1-5. A trip to Madison to play Wisconsin starts off the season followed by a home game against Maine. Week three will take the Hilltoppers to Louisville to play the Cardinals but at least Lamar Jackson is gone. The conference season begins on September 29th against Marshall in a very critical swing game for Western Kentucky. If they can get this one, they could very easily start off 3-0 in conference play. Bottom line, it will be an uphill battle for this team to win more than six or seven games as it will take one more season to get this transition completed under Coach Sanford.
Projected Bowl: None
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 60.8 (129th in nation, 14th in conference)
Passing Offense: 335.0 (7, 1)
Total Offense: 395.8 (69, 5)
Scoring Offense: 25.5 (89, 9)
Rushing Defense: 170.3 (69, 6)
Pass Defense: 206.8 (40, 4)
Total Defense: 377.2 (53, 6)
Scoring Defense: 26.8 (66, 8)
Turnover Margin: -0.62 (110, 9)
Sacks: 0.92 (124, 12)
Sacks Allowed: 3.69 (126, 14)