August 6, 2012
WKU training camp is underway. We’re less than a month away from the Hilltoppers’ season opener against Austin Peay. Expectations are at an all-time high for the Tops after last year’s seven-win season. However, there are several question marks entering the fall. So here are the top five questions/storylines during training camp, and eventually the regular season.
1. Who replaces Bobby Rainey’s production?
This is the most obvious uncertainty for the Tops. I say “Rainey’s production” instead of “Rainey” for two reasons. One, you can’t really replace a guy like Bobby Rainey. And two, as we all know, Rainey did so much more than run the football. He was a great receiver out of the backfield and even threw a touchdown pass last season.
As far back as spring football, coach Taggart said the position would likely be a running back by committee. But someone is going to get the bulk of the carries. I say that person is Antonio Andrews. He has to be the favorite entering camp with Keyshawn Simpson close behind. Their track record is limited, but they have a track record nonetheless. Andrews also looked sharp in the spring game. John Evans is ineligible this year so he is out, although his absence will be felt more in the return game. Other guys that could compete for carries are redshirt freshman Marquis Sumler, and true freshmen Anthony Wales and Leon Allen.
2. Is Kawaun Jakes ready to take the next step?
Overshadowed by Rainey’s incredible senior season was Jakes’ solid play the final eight games of the year. Jakes threw 12 interceptions last season, but only threw four in the final eight games. It is an overused term, but Jakes did a nice job managing the offense. He was not asked to do a ton because that was Rainey’s task. That said, he needs to improve his completion percentage and he needs to make opposing defenses fear him. Despite the Tops’ success last year, they were largely one-dimensional. Jakes will have to turn it up a notch his senior year if the Hilltoppers are to take another step forward.
3. How will the Hilltoppers deal with high expectations?
For the first time since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision, WKU is expected to win. For a team that has really just figured out how to win, that could mess with the Toppers’ heads. They were really good at ignoring distractions last year. That should come in handy again. The good thing about this group is they set their own expectations very high.
4. Who becomes the go-to receiver in the passing game?
The Toppers will use their tight ends often, and they have a bevy of them. But they need a reliable target at wide receiver. Marcus Vasquez has tried to become that guy but injuries keep getting in the way. He will be among those vying to be the top target again if his knee can hold up. He is coming back from a torn ACL injury suffered early last season. Willie McNeal, Boe Brand and Rico Brown are the other top candidates at wide receiver entering camp.
5. Will fans show up?
The support for the Hilltoppers came too little too late last year. It served as a good learning lesson for fans, though. If you want to see your team go to bowl games, you must hold up your end of the bargain. Bowls are not going to pick teams with below average attendance. People may not like it, but it’s all about the money.
This is a critical year for WKU Football. The program is riding a lot of momentum right now. If the Tops want to keep fans interested, they cannot take a step backwards. And the Hilltopper faithful needs to come out to Houchens Smith Stadium.