It’s the sharpest of all double-edge swords.
On one hand, you have the 8-4 Hilltoppers. The best record in team history, wins over the mighty SEC (okay, Kentucky…) Army and Navy, both of which boasted the nation’s #1 team rushing attack when WKU played them. You also had a quarterback in Brandon Doughty who set a school record in passing yards (which has stood since 1985) and a running back in Antonio Andrews who broke Jeremy Maciln’s record of most all purpose yards in a two year span in the FBS. Finally, the Tops ended the season on a hot streak, winning their final 4 games, and putting 30 or more points on the scoreboard in 3 of those 4 games.
However, on the other hand, you have a team that started 4-4, and every loss they had was ugly – be it a turnover disaster in Knoxville, a late 4th quarter interception, or two ugly home losses, one of which was on national television. With that 4-4 start, you didn’t know the fate of the team, unlike last season, and at times, it felt like this season would be all for naught. And, while the last 4 games of the season were impressive and would most likely steamroll into a good bowl showing, the bowl system is inherently flawed, and have once again shown Hilltopper fans that it’s how you start. Not how you finish.
The college football bowl system has no room for teams like the 2011 Cardinals, who play well down the stretch, sneak in the playoffs, and win MLB’s championship. It’s about getting ahead, and then making preperations to stay there above teams who squeak by.
Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way, shape, or form saying that the Hilltoppers “squeaked” by to their 8-4 record. Did they have a weak stretch? Sure, but they handled business. And beat Army. On the road. Not an easy task for a Sun Belt football team
The similarities between this season and 2011, the first WKU bowl snub, are astounding.
In 2011, after starting the season 0-4, WKU goes on a 5 game winning streak, and ends the year on a 7-1 streak (the lone loss to the #1 LSU Tigers). They were the feel good story, they had a young and exciting coach, and the nation’s best back in Bobby Rainey. They also were the lone team in FBS ball who qualified for a bowl, but didn’t get in. Teams like a 6-7 UCLA and 6-6 Pitt got games over the upstart 7-5 Tops squad.
2012 proved to be a different story – and all but proves the point of start fast, and finish with 6 wins.
WKU is bowl eligible following a win against FIU with 4 games to play, but started the season 5-1 (again, the lone loss to the #1 team in the country – Alabama), so there was time for bowls to know the name, and for WKU to send information out. It came to be close, but, as we all know and cherish, the Tops got the Little Caeser’s Pizza Bowl.
And then, there is this season. A win here, two losses there. 3 wins here, 2 ugly home losses there. The win against Army made WKU bowl eligible, and while exciting that the once 0-for-the-season football team is bowl eligible for the 3rd consecutive year, it should have been realized that it was too much too late, and there was no time to court the other bowls into looking good.
Possibly the biggest disapointment of WKU not getting a bowl game this year (thanks to, once again, the friggin Pitt Panthers) is that, much like Bobby Rainey in 2011, Antonio Andrews wont be able to showcase what he can do in a Hilltopper uniform for a national audience one last time.
Contrary to what many people will say, I will not call WKU not getting a game a “snub,” this year. They were in the running. They were the runners up for two (maybe more) bowls. GoDaddy.com was here, and chose Arkansas St. over the Tops. Let’s be real – WKU had no business winning that game. A snub is when a team is brushed aside because they don’t belong. The Tops belong. You know that. I know that. The team knows it. Commissioner Benson knows it. The LCPB an GoDaddy.com bowl know it. But, a costly conference loss to South Alabama in the 3rd week of the season cost WKU a chance of playing in January.
So what next? Well, the SBC does send two representatives, and the CUS