August 4, 2013
As most of you know, Monday marks the start of training camp for the Hilltoppers. Expectations are high for coach Petrino and the Tops, but there are still a lot of unknowns entering camp. Here are my five biggest questions for the Toppers when camp kicks off on Monday.
1. Who is the starting quarterback?
I promise not all of these questions will be quite so obvious. But it's the question everyone wants to know right? Brandon Doughty clearly established himself as the favorite during spring football. However, coach Petrino has made it clear JUCO transfer Nelson Fishback and true freshman Todd Porter will get a chance to compete for the job. And you cannot forget about Louisville native Damarcus Smith. I tend to believe Petrino will want "his guy" (meaning a player he recruited) to be the starter, which would bode well for Fishback and Porter. Of course, they have to be good enough to snag the job. With such a head start, Doughty should be your starter against Kentucky.
2. How quickly can the Tops figure out Petrino's pro-style offense?
This could mean the difference between winning 5-6 games or 8-9 games. It is a big adjustment, but it is not unprecedented.
3. Can Antonio Andrews repeat his incredible 2012 season in 2013?
My guess is Andrews will not come close to the numbers he put up last season. And in no way is that a knock on him. The simple fact is Andrews was the focal point of the offense under Willie Taggart. That will not be the case under Petrino. He will get his share of carries, but not nearly as many as last year. That said, Andrews will still be a huge weapon for the Tops.
4. Who becomes the go-to receiver?
This was Jack Doyle's spot a year ago. Today, Doyle is fighting for a roster spot with the Titans. Willie McNeal is the first name that comes to mind. McNeal was Western's best wide receiver by a mile in 2012. Plus, he is the only returning wideout that posted double digit receptions in 2012. Rico Brown caught 13 passes, but he has since been converted to defensive back. I would also expect sophomore Austin Aikens to take a giant step forward. He only had eight receptions last year but he averaged more than 27 yards per catch. Clearly, Aikens has big time deep play potential.
And then you have a slew of tight ends: Mitchell Henry, Tyler Higbee, Tim Gorski, and Devin Scott. Henry is the top candidate to replace Doyle as the top tight end. I think Higbee is primed for a breakout year. I expected big things from him in 2012, but an injury derailed his season. In the offseason, the coaching staff made the decision to switch Higbee from wideout to tight end and so far, it has worked out well. Higbee looked very good in the spring game and should continue to get better throughout camp.
5. Can Nick Holt rebuild the defensive line?
The Tops lost a lot of talent on the D-line. Quanterus Smith is off playing for the Denver Broncos and they also lost Rammell Lewis, Jamarcus Allen, Cole Tischer, and Kenny Martin. To put that in perspective, those five guys accounted for 48 of 52 combined starts on the defensive line in 2012. The only two returning players who made a start on the D-line last year are Gavin Rocker (3) and Bryan Shorter (1). Some names to keep an eye on this fall include Rocker, Shorter, Calvin Washington, Jamichael Payne, Maurice Bennett, James Hervey, and Marquez Pride.