2012 Record: 7-6 (4-4 in Sun Belt)
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (First Year at WKU, 75-26 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2012 LIttle Caesars Bowl: lost to CMU 24-21
Stadium: "The Houch" in Bowling Green, KY (capacity = 22,113)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 29th out of 55 mid-major teams
Out of conference: 8/31 vs Kentucky, 9/7 at Tennessee, 9/21 vs Morgan St
Revenge: 10/3 at ULM,10/15 vs Louisiana
Service Academies: 9/28 vs Navy, 11/9 at Army
Stat to Fear: gave up 66 rushes of 10 or more yards (last in Sun Belt)
Stat to Cheer: 97 tackles for loss in 2012 (led Sun Belt, 10th in Nation)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 66th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense 7, Special Teams 2
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Andrew Jackson (17.5 TFL, 122 tackles), DB Jonathan Dowling (68 tackles, 6 INT), LB Xavius Boyd (7.5 TFL, 79 tackles), DB Cam Thomas (43 tackles, 3 INT), DB Kiante Young (83 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Antonio Andrews (1733 yds rush, 5.7 ypc, 11 TD, 37 rec), WR Willie McNeal (43 rec, 6 TD)
Willie Taggart had the Hilltoppers headed in the right direction posting back-to-back 7-5 regular seasons and taking them bowling in 2012. Taggart departed to USF and the Hilltoppers have made the controversial hire of Bobby Petrino. Petrino has an outstanding career college record of 75-26 but he's burned bridges and acted unprofessionally throughout his career. Will Petrino's time at WKU be a redemption or is he simply here to win games and burn more bridges? One thing to look at is how Petrino fared in his first year at each of his collegiate stops. At Louisville in 2003, Petrino was a first time head coach and increased their win total by two games finishing at 9-4 after going 7-6 under a previous coach in 2002. At Arkansas, Petrino had to take a step backward before he could move the Hogs forward. In 2007, they went 8-4 under Houston Nutt and finished just 5-7 the next year under Petrino.
WKU must replace four year starter at QB Kawaun Jakes and 2012 back-up James Mauro has requested a transfer. That leaves Brandon Doughty and DaMarcus Smith as the favorites with Todd Porter and JUCO Nelson Fishback coming in this fall. Doughty is a junior who went 1 for 3 last season but threw for 314 yards and 5 TDs in the spring game and he is the leader in the clubhouse. Whoever wins the starting QB job can lean on RB Antonio Andrews. Andrews ran for 133 yards per game last season which was fifth in the Nation. Andrews also had 37 receptions out of the backfield so look for him to be a huge part of Petrino's game plan. The Hilltoppers have some talent at receiver and they also return talent on the offensive line as they have three players returning with 19 or more starts.
The biggest hole to fill will be on defense where Quanterus Smith has taken his 12.5 sacks to the NFL. The defensive line loses it's top five tacklers so the d-line could quickly go from a strength in 2012 to a weakness in 2013. The good news is that WKU is stacked at LB so they should be able to pick up some slack if the DL doesn't come together right away. WKU also have a good defensive backfield with what is probably the best tandem of safeties in the Sun Belt.
WKU will be a question mark under Petrino until they hit the field but I would expect the Hilltoppers to be pretty good this year as they return a lot of talent and they don't have a killer schedule. The worst case scenario looks like 5-7 or 6-6 but I'd peg this as more of an 8-4 team with the ability to do better depending on how they start. Depending on how quickly Petrino's offense kicks in and if the defensive line can recoup it's losses we could be looking at a WKU team that wins it's first Sun Belt Championship.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews:
@CFBZ It's hard not to take interest in this situation, i.e., Petrino. I liken it to Mike Leach rolling into Pullman last season: there's a lot of anticipation for an offensive outburst.
I admire Chad's candor too about the fans' opinion of Petrino. I'm not so quick to offer him a pass on his many past transgressions, but I will be watching the scoreboard when the Hilltoppers are playing each week.
@29sonski There are definitely some similarities with the two situations but the three things Petrino has in his favor. The schedule, the talent that his team returns (at least in comparison with the rest of the league) and this team has won football games the last two years.
Looking back on it, I predicted five wins for Wazzu and they ended up with three. They had some close calls (Colorado) but I definitely think it was harder to turn around that losing mindset then many (including myself) thought it would be.
@CFBZ Definitely agree re your points. That puts more pressure on him as well. No one expects him to be there in 2014, but if the team doesn't show marked improvement his next gig may not have the visibility he might be hoping for.
@29sonski Call me crazy but I think this will be a two year stop for Petrino. I think he understands his rep needs to be fixed and if and when he leaves this job I think he does it the right way. But then again, it's hard to teach old dogs new tricks.