Western Kentucky’s average attendance dropped 11 percent from 2013 to 2014. The Hilltoppers averaged just 16,306 fans per home game, which was better than just 16 other teams at the FBS level.
The departure of big-name head coach Bobby Petrino, who left the program at the conclusion of the 2013 season to return to the University Louisville, obviously had a lot to do with waning interest in the team. The lack of support on a local level combined with the absolutely nonexistent intrigue on the national level was truly a shame considering just how efficient and exciting the Hilltoppers offense actually was last fall.
With first-year head coach Jeff Brohm at the helm, Western Kentucky’s offense proved to be one of the most lethal attacks in all of college football.
The Hilltoppers averaged 44 points and 534 total yards per game. They finished the season ranked in the top 10 nationally in six major offensive categories—second overall in passing offense, fourth in total offense, fifth in average first downs per game, sixth in scoring offense and sixth in total touchdowns scored.
The focal point of a largely pass-driven attack was QB Brandon Doughty, who turned in a masterful performance in his second year as a starter. Doughty attempted 552 pass attempts, which was the second most of any quarterback in the country, yet remarkably, he still managed to complete 68 percent of his throws and average 8.8 yards per attempt.
Doughty’s 4,830 passing yards and 49 total touchdown passes were each the highest total of any quarterback in the country. His 161.1 total passer rating was the third best in the nation behind only Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota and freshman phenom J.T. Barrett.
It was a performance that earned the former overlooked 3-star recruit from Southeast Florida numerous accolades and awards, most notably the Conference-USA Most Valuable Player.
The good news is that the 6’3’’, 210-pound senior was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, so he’ll be back to lead the attack in 2015. The even better news is that he’ll be joined by nearly every key member of the high-powered 2014 offense.
The team’s leading rusher, RB Leon Allen, will enter his senior year with plenty of momentum following a breakout junior campaign. Last season, Allen proved to be a more than capable replacement for Antonio Andrews as well as a perfect complement to Doughty.
The 6’0’’, 235-pound multi-faceted playmaker proved his worth as both a rusher and a receiver, as he totaled over 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground while adding 51 catches for 476 yards and three receiving touchdowns. Allen’s 64 total plays of 10 yards or more from scrimmage was tied for the sixth highest total in the nation in 2014. It was a showing that earned him a spot on Conference USA’s second-team All-Conference offense.
Doughty will surely be happy to have a weapon like Allen at his disposal once again, and he’ll also be glad to have three of his four most productive receivers—Jared Dangerfield, Taywan Taylor and Antwane Grant—back as well. Last season, the trio of pass-catchers combined to haul in 155 receptions for over 2,100 yards and 24 touchdowns.
As if those three proven veterans weren’t enough, big things are also expected from sophomore Nacarius Fant, a local product who earned 2013 Kentucky Mr. Football honors after a record-setting senior season at nearby Bowling Green High School.
Up front, the offensive line welcomes back four starters: left tackle Forrest Lamp, left guard Brandon Ray, right guard Darrell Williams and center Max Halpin. Lamp, a 6’4’’, 296-pound junior who earned honorable mention All-Conference honors last season, and Ray, a 6’3’’, 285-pound sophomore who earned a spot on the FWAA first-team Freshman All-American team during his debut campaign, will be the leaders of a unit that allowed just 19 total sacks in 2014.
“Loaded” is a term that truly suits Western Kentucky’s 2015 offense well.
Unfortunately, in this day and age when the main focus of the college football world is on the big-name money-making schools in the Power-5 conferences, the rest of the smaller brand names seemingly get lost in the shuffle. For example, last season, Western Kentucky didn’t have a single regular season game broadcast on any of ESPN’s channels.
Luckily, though, they did have an appearance on the worldwide leader in the inaugural Bahamas Bowl. True to form, in front of a national audience, the Hilltoppers offense shined, building up a 49-14 lead over Central Michigan before a fourth-quarter defensive meltdown resulted in a little-too-close-for-comfort 49-48 victory.
If anything, that game was a reflection on how a team could be so tremendous on the offensive side of the ball, yet still finish a season with a respectable yet rather ho-hum 8-5 overall record. As good as the offense was, the defense seemed to be just as disastrous, ranking 123rd nationally in total defense and 124th in scoring defense.
The Hilltoppers offense should once again be one of the most potent and powerful attacks in all of college football in 2015. With Doughty, Allen and company leading the charge, it’s a unit that has consistently shown that it can score when it wants, how it wants and how often it wants, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue.
If Brohm and his staff can correct the woes on the other side of the ball, Western Kentucky—which is a program that has only been a full-time FBS member since 2009—appears like it’s ready to take the next step in its evolution this fall.