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Western Kentucky finally has to say goodbye to stud quarterback Brandon Doughty, who threw for 97 touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Hilltoppers. They finished 12-2 last year, winning Conference USA as well as beating South Florida in the Miami Beach Bowl. There wasn't much more they could do as a team outside of losses to Indiana and LSU. Getting to last year's peak will be close to impossible, but they still have the pieces to be one of the better teams in the conference.
Unfortunately for Western Kentucky, they lost one of their quarterbacks in the spring, Nelson Fishback, who was fighting for the starting gig. That just means the battle is between Tyler Ferguson, Mike White, Drew Eckels and Steven Duncan. No matter who wins the job, there are plenty of pieces around the quarterback to keep this offense relevant.
Running backs Anthony Wales (1,091 yards, 9 TDs) and D'Andre Ferby (650 yards, 11 TDs) both return and should be in for even bigger seasons with WKU expected to pass less. That's made possible by an offensive line that returns every starter, most notably all-conference tackle Forrest Lamp. The running game previously took a back seat to Doughty, but that could change this year. Studs remain at wide receiver as well with Taywan Taylor (86 receptions, 1,467 yards, 17 TDs) and Nicholas Norris (63 receptions, 971 yards, 6 TDs).
The offense will definitely take a step back with a new coordinator, but they'll still be more than fine in the C-USA.
Defense is another issue, though. The Hilltoppers improved a bunch last year, but lost seven of those starters. They'll have experience, but could be in some different situations this year, as teams were often forced to pass against them the last couple years after being down by so many points.
Linebacker will be the strength of the group and that's a good reason why they should still be a decent unit. T.J. McCollum and Keith Brown are both all-conference prospects. The line is a bit fresher, but still has talent to work with in ends Derik Overstreet and Nick Dawson-Brents. Cornerback will be completely new with a couple juniors expected to start, while safety is set with two seniors in Marcus Ward and Branden Leston.
Western Kentucky will no doubt take a step back record wise, but should still compete in the East division and for a C-USA title. The Hilltoppers completely dominated the conference last year. Outside of a road game at Alabama, WKU could grab three wins from non-conference play with a home game against Vanderbilt being a toss up. The problem with their conference schedule is three road games at La. Tech, MTSU and Marshall. To win the East again, they'll need to go through the conference's best to get there. Other than that, they should have no problem in home games.
Western Kentucky's over/under is still sitting at 9.5 wins with the under -195 at 5Dimes in July. For a team that won't know its quarterback until the fall, betting on 10 wins seems like a leap, especially with four difficult road games. But the offense does have talent. It may be up to the defense to get some upsets, the opposite of a year ago.
2016 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. Rice
Sept. 10 at Alabama
Sept. 17 at Miami (OH)
Sept. 24 vs. Vanderbilt
Oct. 1 vs. Houston Baptist
Oct. 6 at Louisiana Tech
Oct. 15 at Middle Tennessee
Oct. 22 vs. Old Dominion
Oct. 29 at Florida Atlantic
Nov. 5 vs. Florida International
Nov. 12 vs. North Texas
Nov. 26 at Marshall
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