Saturday will mark the 58th time I’ve covered a Western Kentucky football game. Not really a significant number, not a number I bring up to boast about, but only to drive home the point that I’ve seen a little bit of everything with that program.
From losing (being worked over, really) at home against Indiana State, to making a bowl game and losing that bowl game with an interim coach, to 12 Bobby Petrino-coached games, to taking its show international – yes, a little bit of it all. It’s been a weird, wild time.
And along the way, I've witnessed the Hilltoppers play eight games against teams from what is now known as the Power 5 conferences – the SEC, ACC, Big XII, Big Ten or Pac 12. The question for most of those games (even the last two against Kentucky and the one against Vanderbilt) has been, “Do you think the Tops have a shot?”
Which brings us to Saturday.
At 6 p.m., inside the suffocating Death Valley in Baton Rouge, La., WKU plays Louisiana State University. The nation’s sixth-ranked team. One of college football’s blue bloods.
And the query arises yet again.
“Do you think the Tops have a shot?”
Let’s approach the question realistically, calmly, optimistically.
I, for one, do think Jeff Brohm’s boys have a shot. Not Lloyd Christmas so-you’re-telling-me-there’s-a-chance shot, but a real, quantifiable shot.
Western Kentucky’s offense is damn good. It’s good schematically, good in execution, good in personnel. Brandon Doughty is a great – yes, great – quarterback. The team's quartet of wide receivers is as good as they come. The loss to NFL prospect Leon Allen at running back has done little to slow the Brohm machine down. The questionable availability of NFL prospect tight end Tyler Higbee? Methinks Brohm and offensive coordinator Tyson Helton will simply adjust the gameplan accordingly to mask his absence.
In the Jeff Brohm era, that WKU offense has had two bad games – scoring 10 points at Louisiana Tech and 14 points at Vanderbilt.
These Tops can, and will, score.
Now, defensively, WKU isn’t that great – but it’s not as dreadful as it was a year ago. A lot of the statistical numbers are skewed by blowout wins where the opponent tacked on some yards and points late. Then again, you can’t ignore the numbers Indiana and Louisiana Tech put up earlier this season – and dare I say that LSU is much better than those two teams?
The Tigers are now – if they weren’t already – in the conversation to make college football’s four-team playoff. Running back Leonard Fournette leads the country in rushing yards (1,202) and rushing touchdowns (14) and is second nationally with 209.7 all-purpose yards per game. He’s a bad man.
State also ranks eighth in rushing defense and 15th in total defense. Oh, and it’s 36-3 at home since the start of the 2010 season.
There’s a grab bag full of reasons why LSU should win this game. Pick one. Try to argue against it. It will prove to be difficult.
Western Kentucky is a 16 1/2-point underdog while I write this – that in itself should tell you how far the program has come. When the Tops paid Les Miles & Co. a visit four years ago, when LSU was ranked No. 1 in the country, they were 41 1/2-point underdogs.
No one gave WKU a chance then – but that game was 14-7 at halftime and 21-9 with less then three minutes to go in the third quarter. So if those Tops, who lost the aforementioned Indiana State game that same season, mind you, can keep things close, that should bode well for these Tops, no?
I will close with this: A win for WKU would be the biggest in program history. Without offending the national champions of 2002, nothing from the team’s history could compare to walking out of Death Valley with a ‘W’ on national television.
And I think this is the best team the program has ever assembled, the team with the greatest possibility to accomplish the unthinkable. The Tops can play loose and free and confident knowing a defeat does nothing to derail its conference title hopes.
Saturday night, Western Kentucky will give all it has against mighty LSU. About that I have no doubt. The Tops will keep it close – as close as they can for as long as they can.
And then those upset chances will begin to fade late into the night. The Tigers will win 41-31. Any other outcome? Well, I’d have to see it to believe it.
More predictions sure to be wrong
In Lexington on Thursday, it appeared I would witness a Kentucky win that would get the Wildcats over the proverbial hump in the Mark Stoops era.
But… not so much.
There’s an old coaching adage that you can’t let one loss become two. I find that may be hard for Kentucky to overcome this week. The 30-27 loss at home to Auburn, a loss in which UK had multiple opportunities to pull out the win, seemed to deflate Stoops’ troops.
Mississippi State has won six straight against UK and the Bulldogs (5-2, 1-2 SEC) will be playing for bowl eligibility at night in Starkville. State is also 15-3 in its last 18 home games.
I’m rolling with quarterback Dak Prescott and the Dogs, but think Kentucky will stay within the 11 1/2 in a 31-21 State triumph.
Boston College at Louisville
The sky is falling in Petrinoville, and granted, I didn’t see this type of season for the Cardinals coming, either.
At the halfway point of the year, sitting at 2-4 and 1-2 in the ACC, Louisville, however, enters the back end of the schedule with some good news – its next four opponents are a combined 11-15.
So buck up U of L fan, there’s still half of a season to be played. And probably a bowl game appearance. And probably some highlight runs and throws by quarterback Lamar Jackson.
And a win against visiting eight-point underdog Boston College this Saturday, 28-17.
Falcons at Titans
Shame on me. I continued to buy in to the prospects of Tennessee getting things turned around against the hapless Dolphins.
[insert Price is Right failure music here]
Man, the Titans aren’t a very good football team. I fooled myself into believing Tennessee’s personnel was enough to be competitive – and it still may be. The problems appear to run deeper than that.
I don’t see how I could pick Atlanta to NOT cover the 3 1/2 at Nissan Stadium this weekend? Falcons roll 31-14.
Record to date: 12-10. An ugly 1-3 mark last week. D’oh!
Quote of the week
Western Kentucky junior Fredrick Edmond on having never tried his winning dunk Saturday, leaping over guard Chris Harrison-Docks: “That’s why I was so scared, I’d never did it before. But I wasn’t gonna hurt him.”
Musical pick of the week
You may have heard Lauren Cunningham around town. Check this out:
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop