2022 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Preview

by Matt Fargo

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

2021-22 Season Record 9-5 (7-1 C-USA East) - 10-4-0 ATS - 10-4-0 O/U

Returning Starters

Offense - 4
Defense - 7

Overview

With the exception of first year head coach David Elson, who went 0-12 in one season, and two years with Mike Sanford where he went 9-16, every other coach has had success at Western Kentucky. From Willie Taggart to Jeff Brohm to current head coach Tyson Helton, all have scored at least two winning records and Helton is coming off his most impressive year because of what did not happen. The Hilltoppers opened the season 1-4 and instead of quitting, they ran off seven straight wins, all by blowouts, and even though they lost to UTSA in the C-USA Championship, they rolled Appalachian St. in the Boca Roton Bowl and that momentum could be needed heading into this season. Western Kentucky has only 11 starters back with a returning production ranking of No. 88 and a second straight poor recruiting class came in so it could be a bit of an uphill battle this season.

Offense

The biggest offensive turnaround in the country took place at Western Kentucky as after averaging 291.7 ypg in 2020, which was No. 121 in the country, it boosted that to 528.4 ypg last season which was second in the nation behind Ohio St. The passing offense was the best in the country behind quarterback Bailey Zappe who threw for an unheard of 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns but he is now a New England Patriot and it was supposed be West Virginia transfer Jarret Doege to take over the offense but he already left the team and it will be Austin Reed to run the show after winning the Division II National Championship at West Florida. The top two targets who put up massive numbers are gone, the running game lost its top rusher and will be a running game by committee and the offensive line has just two starters back. It will not be like last season but time will tell.

Defense

The defense was not very good but it did not have to be and that will have to change this season. The Hilltoppers finished No. 98 in total defense and No. 90 in scoring defense and have seven starters back so the unit should be better if it has to carry the offense early on. Obviously, the passing defense was the weakness because it got thrown on so much and it will be better off for it this season. Two starters are back in the secondary led by safety A.J. Brathwaite, Jr. who had 64 tackles and they will be counting on a pair of transfers to fill the holes. The linebackers will help out as Jaden Hunter led the team with 67 tackles and Will Ignont who contributed 52 tackles are both back and each can create pressure on the quarterback after combining for six sacks. The defensive front is the big question after not getting tested against the run much but there is decent depth.

2022 Season Outlook

While last season was great, it could have been a lot better as three of those first four losses were by a combined 11 points, winning the yardage battle in two of those, and the other loss was against Michigan St. Western Kentucky is the third favorite to win C-USA, slightly behind UTSA and UAB with a lot of that based on last season but this is a tough team to trust with so many missing parts. They open at home against Austin Peay and then have a tough roadtrip at Hawaii and Indiana but do get a bye in-between then are back home for games against Florida International and Troy. Five of the last eight games are on the road including UTSA, Auburn and Florida Atlantic. They catch UAB and North Texas at home. The O/U win total is set at 8.5 partly because of last year and partly because of a 13-game schedule and it just seems too high especially with seven road games. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2022 Al McMordie's BigAl.com. All Rights Reserved.