Returning a preseason first-team C-USA quarterback and the nation's leading passer in 2022: Check! In addition, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have two of the top receivers in C-USA. WKU comes into this year with a great offense, competitive defense, so it is the odds-on favorite for C-USA champion in 2023.
WESTERN KENTUCKY 2023 PREVIEW
THE CONF.: Conference USA
2022 RECORD: 9-5 (went to New Orleans Bowl, beating South Alabama 44-23)
CONF. FINISH: Finished tied for 2nd in Conference USA in 2022
HEAD COACH: Tyson Helton, 5th year, 5th year as a head coach. Record of 32-21.
FIVE ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Austin Reed, preseason 1st team C-USA; Malachi Corley, JR, WR; Vincent Murphy JR, C, 1st team CUSA last year. JaQues Evans, JR, LB.
THE NEWCOMER: Lonnie Rice/LB (Lackawanna (PA) CC transfer) had 29 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year. Transfers OL Mike Moment (Alcorn State) and three-star WR Jimmie Holliday (Tennessee) will also be key contributors.
WKU was picked by the media members at C-USA Media days as the preseason favorite, with 18 votes. Liberty was a very distant second. WKU earned this from returning a preseason C-USA 1st team quarterback, and two other highly touted offensive players. It returns a decent defense as well, ranked 69th nationally in yards given up 2022, but highly rated for C-USA.
For Western Kentucky, the transfer portal had a very good year. According to Rivals.com, Khristian Zachary is a three-star DL (from Liberty) and Willie Taggart, Jr. is a three-star QB (transferring from Florida Atlantic) . Yes, that Willie Taggart, his dad was the head coach at WKU from 2009-2012, and then at four other FBS schools, including FAU.
THE KEY GAME AND WHY
October 24, Tuesday night, on national TV, Liberty comes to play WKU. By this time the two teams should be competing for the C-USA top spot, and the winner has the inside track for the C-USA championship — and there's a chance they could both make it if all goes well for these two programs.
THE TOUGHEST GAME AND WHY
New Mexico State — November 11 at home. New Mexico State is the third to last game on the schedule for WKU, and New Mexico State in 2022 had a very strong finish and an upset over Liberty late in 2022. WKU by this time of year will either be positioning itself for a very good bowl, or fighting for a mid-tier bowl game. WKU will be coming off three games that are very tough and could overlook this New Mexico State — which also makes this one a challenge/trap game.
THE CHANCES OF MAKING CONF. TITLE GAME
The schedule lines up for almost 100 percent chance of making the championship game. A loaded offense returns, but the top recruits are also on the offensive side and there is a lot of depth
The only certain loss is Ohio State on the road. The potential losses are at Troy, and at UTEP — but WKU will probably be favored in most if not all G5 level games. Home games against Liberty and MTSU will be challenges — but WKU doesn't just have them at home, but during weeknight nationally televised games, which should bring a huge interest. The other seven games look like lock wins.
This team should have a ceiling of 10 wins. WKU looks like a C-USA favorite. However, like with any football team, with such a loaded offense, a key injury or two could take the Hilltoppers down to 3rd or 4th in the C-USA.
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