Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can now focus our attention to…next year’s college football slate!
The Sun has officially set on WKU’s brief football time in the Sun Belt, and now we have our first taste at what is the first (of hopefully many and successful) chapter of Hilltopper football as a member of Conference USA.
Last season, C-USA fielded six teams in a bowl game (successfully filling all of their bowl tie-ins), leaving out only a 6-6 Florida Atlantic and 7-5 (and 2nd-place standing) UTSA team from post-season play. The conference’s bowl season saw North Texas, Marshall and East Carolina win their games, while Tulane, Rice and Middle Tennessee dropped their contests.
With the addition of WKU next season, C-USA will lose three members (and two bowl participants) – East Carolina and Tulane, along with Tulsa, as all three are headed for the American Athletic Conference.
Along with C-USA releasing schedules for all their teams today, they also announced that WKU will be in the East Division, along with FIU, FAU, Marshall, MTSU, Old Dominion and UAB.
The Tops will play Illinois, Bowling Green and the continuation of the Army and Navy series for their non-conference schedule, and we now know which C-USA teams WKU will play in their maiden voyage.
Below we have the dates, as well as what the team did last year, for WKU’s opponents.
Opponents in italics denote Conference USA game.
August 28th – Bowling Green State University
The Tops will open the season in the bright lights of a Thursday night showdown with MAC opponent BGSU. The Falcons finished last season with a 10-4 (7-1 in MAC) record, and lost the Little Caesars Bowl (no, I’m not crying…) to Pitt in 2013. BGSU’s only regular season losses came against Mississippi State, Indiana and MAC opponent Toledo. They return their starting QB Matt Johnson (237 completions for 3,467 yards and 35 passing TD’s) as well as their top rusher Travis Greene (279 carries for 1594 yards and 11 rushing scores), as well as coming off a season where the Falcons ranked 5th in the nation in points for (only allowing just over 15 per game). It’ll be a great test to open the season for Brohm and his new staff. Plus, the winner will get a nifty LCPB “true-runner-up” trophy. Oh, they wont? Well, let’s make it happen.
September 6th – at Illinois
The Fighting Illini will be the first road test for the Hilltoppers under Jeff Brohm, and if things don’t change for the Illini, it’ll be a great day for Tops fans. Illinois finished last year 4-8 (1-7 in Big Ten), including losing six in a row in the middle of the season. They’ll be without QB Nathan Scheelhaase, as 2013 was his senior campaign, and in missing him, they’ll be missing out on 287 completions, 3,272 yards and 21 touchdowns. They will, however, return leading rusher Josh Ferguson, who notched 779 yards in 141 carries and 7 touchdowns. Ferguson also was the Illini’s second leading receiver, gaining 535 yards on 50 catches and scoring four TD’s via the catch.
September 13th – at Middle Tennessee
Great to see you again, Blue Raiders. I believe we have some unfinished business.
And, yes, it is a bummer that this game doesn’t close the season like a traditional rivalry game would, the silver-lining is that MTSU is the Tops’ first official C-USA conference game, so there’s always that. MTSU went 8-5 (6-2) in their inaugural C-USA campaign, and drew the attention of the Armed Forces Bowl, where the got shellacked by Navy (24-6 was that final score. Mwahahaha). It’ll time for Topper fans to dislike a new QB, as last season marked the last for Logan Kilgore in a MTSU uni, and the Raiders will have to make up 2,507 in 216 completions and 16 touchdowns. Leading rusher Jordan Parker (146 rushes for 745 yards, 6 TD’s) and leading receiver Marcus Henry (38 catches for 549 yards, 3 TD’s) will be back for the Blue Raiders, however, to make up for the lost experience at QB. The game is sure to have plenty of fanfare around it, and I’m already giddy about it, and it’s February. See you in Murfreesboro.
September 27th – at Navy
It’ll be interesting to see how well the Midshipmen remember the game here on the Hill this past season, as it came the week before they played arch-rival Air Force, and came in the beginning of the same season where they extended their decade-plus winning streak against arch-arch rival Army. Keenan Reynolds will be back (300 carries for 1,345 yards, 38 total touchdowns), as will their second leading rusher (or, if you look at it this way – leading rusher NOT named Reynolds) Chris Swain (407 yards in just over 100 rushes, 4 scores). The Midshipmen finished last year 9-4, capping off the year by demolishing MTSU in the Armed Forces Bowl.
October 4th – University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB)
UAB will be exciting, cause it’ll be the first time WKU plays a first time conference opponent (as in, not someone who was in the Sun Belt a year or two ago). It’ll also be exciting because the Blazers only one 2 games last year (finishing 2-10, 1-7), so if the Tops are having a hard time grabbing their footing to the season, this might be the game to get things going. Gone will be UAB quarterback Jonathan Perry (92 completions for 1,379 yards, 10 touchdowns), but are returning leading rusher Darrin Reaves (201 rushes for 928 yards, 12 TD’s) and leading receiver Jamarcus Nelson (42 catches for 846 yards, 8 scores). Unfortunately, two returning key players is far from the solution to the year UAB had last year. Too early to sharpie a W on this one?
October 18th – at FAU
Oh, hey FAU, we have some things to clear up with you as well.
I certainly haven’t forgotten the embarrassment of a game between the Owls & Tops two seasons ago, and hopefully, WKU doesn’t either and actually shows up to Owlcatraz (are they still calling it that?) in October. The Owls showed up for their first C-USA year, going an even .500 across the board (6-6, 4-4), and was the only bowl eligible team from the conference to not receive a bid. They’ll enter 2014 hot though, as they won their final four games (Tulane, Southern Miss, New Mexico State and FIU), and will look to ride that coming into play this year. Quarterback Jaquez Johnson will be the only key position player returning, as he not only played QB, but serves as a dual threat, and lead the Owls in rushing (149 of 256 for 1,866 yards and 12 TD’s through the air, 172 rushes for 767 yards and 10 TD’s on the ground). Second leading receiver William Dukes will be back as well (35 catches for 553 yards, 6 TD’s). This aint your Sun Belt FAU squad, so the Hilltoppers better be ready to play ball.
October 25th – Old Dominion
The other new kids on the C-USA block are the Old Dominion Monarchs, and went 8-4 in their transition year last year (with the 4 losses coming against the only respectable teams ODU played). ODU is returning quarterback Taylor Heinicke (340 completions for 4,022 yards and 33 TD’s) and leading receiver Larry Pinkard (68 receptions for 1,020 yards and 9 scores), but lose 483 yards and 104 rushes…and 12 scores…from leading rushers Colby Goodwyn. The winning record last year is 100% deceitful, and this should be another sharpie W for WKU.
November 1st – at Louisiana Tech
Out with Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe, and in with Louisiana Tech. And if the WKU/LT games are half of what WKU/ULL and WKU/ULM were, I think the Tops have found their new rival (outside of MTSU, of course). The Bulldogs went 4-8 (3-5 in C-USA) a year ago, and are in a prime position to rebound, as they’ll have a sophomore QB in Ryan Higgins (166 completions for 1,715 yards and 6 TD’s as a freshman) and junior running back Kenneth Dixon (151 rushes for 917 yards, 4 scores), but will miss leading receiver Sterling Griffin (33 receptions for 357 yards, 2 TD’s in his final season).
November 8th – University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP)
The Miners of UTEP finished dead last in the C-USA West Division last year, going 2-10 and 1-7 in conference play, with the two wins coming against future Sun Belt school New Mexico State, and former SBC member FIU (who the Tops will miss on their schedule this year). UTEP is a pretty respectable mid-major program that has found themselves in a down period. But, even with the poor play, they still managed to finish in the top 50 in the nation (46th to be exact) in rushing yards per game, averaging 184. That attack was lead by freshman Aaron Jones, who the Miners are excited to have back, and he’ll look to capitalize on his 811 yard on 155 rush season, capped off by 4 touchdowns. Also returning is QB Jameill Showers (107 completions for 1,263 yards and 11 TD’s) and leading receiver Jordan Leslie (44 catches for 612 yards and 7 scores). This game will also mark the start of a 3-game home stand for the Tops to all but close out the season (minus the season finale in Marshall).
November 15th – Army
The Tops will take on the Black Knights nearly the same time this season as they did last, and WKU will look to avoid allowing Army to take revenge in a similar way. While there’s no doubt it’ll be a good game, hopefully the Tops can pull away a little earlier, and will have locked up a bowl bid long ago. Returning is leading rusher Terry Baggett (141 rushes for 1,113 yards and 8 scores) and leading receiver Xavier Moss (35 catches for 463 yards, and one lonely touchdown).
November 22nd – University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA)
The final home game of 2014 will be when the Roadrunners from UTSA visit L.T. Smith Stadium. the RR’s finished last year with a 7-5 (6-2 in C-USA) record, but were exempt from the bowl season (we feel your pain). UTSA will be without QB Eric Soza, who finished his career by posting 236 completions for 2,719 yards and 12 scores. Returning, though, are leading rusher David Glasco II (95 carries for 496 yards, 5 TD’s) and leading receiver Kam Jones (34 receptions for 345 yards and 1 score). Hopefully, an earlier final game of the regular season will mean a better final-game turnout from students, which is essentially what kept WKU out of the bowl season last year.
November 28th – at Marshall
WKU’s inaugural C-USA football season will come to an end in Marshall, W.V. to take on the defending Eastern Division champion Thundering Heard. The Heard went 10-4 (7-1 in C-USA), and lost to Rice in the C-USA Championship game and lost to Maryland in the Military Bowl. Marshall will return QB Rakeem Cato (298 completions for 3,916 yards and 39 TD’s) and leading receiver Tommy Shuler (106 receptions for 1,165 yards and 10 TD’s), but will lose 1,140 yards and 10 scores out of the backfield in losing Essray Taliaferro. Hopefully it’ll be wrapped up by then, but there’s always the possibility that the winner of this game plays in the C-USA championship, so a lot could be riding on this one.
Well, there you have it. Your first moderately in-depth look at WKU’s 2014 football opponents. Some old rivalries will be revived, and some new rivalries will be created. That, and WKU now can play for a conference football championship in a winner-take-all game.
What game are you most looking forward to? Which C-USA team are you bummed that WKU wont play this year? Let us know in a tweet to @WaveTheRedTowel, or below in the comments.
Stand up and cheers.