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2017 Fierce 40 Previews: #35 Western Kentucky

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 10, 2017

#35 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

2016 Recap:
Western Kentucky continues to crank out double digit winning seasons as they ended 2016 winning eight consecutive games culminating in a 51-31 Bowl win over Memphis giving them an 11-3 record. Western Kentucky should be favoreites to win Conference USA in 2017.


Coaching:
Mike Sanford is the ultimate question mark for Western Kentucky as he gets his first crack at being a head coach for a college program. Sanford comes over from Notre Dame where he was the offensive coordincator. Junior Adams will be the coordinator on the offense for Western Kentucky while Clayton Adams leads the defensive unit.


Offense

Mike White had the nearly impossible task of replacing Brandon Doughty at quarterback last season and he passed all tessts with flying colors. Not only did White fit in nicely, he carried the Hilltoppers to a remarkable average of 45.5 PPG scored which led the nation. The Hilltoppers ranked #5 overall in total offense with 523.1 YPC averaged. Taywan Taylor, Nicholas Norris have greaduated for Western Kentucky meaning about 70% of their receptions from a year ago are gone. Xavier Lane is only a freshman but he could develop into the go-to receiver while sophomore Lucky Jackson moves into a starting role. Nacarius Fant is the top returning receiver but he is undersized and will be the primary return man on special teams so expect him to have his snap counts watched closely.  Western Kentucky is going to have to run the ball effectively to challenge for the Conference USA crown. D'Andre Ferby and Quinton Baker could end up sharing the load and could each winds up with at least 12 carrioes per game. The offensive line is on the smaller side but most of the lineman have the ability to play multiple positions.
 

Best Draft Prospects: Mike White QB 7th Round 2018

                                       Jimmie Simms OT UFA 2018.


Defense

New coaching staff brings a new philosophy and alignment as Western Kentucky will move to a 4-2-5 base in most situations. Having only two linebackers is also beneficial for this season as the best player on the defense was linebacker T.J. McCollum and he followed coaching Jeff Brohm to Purdue as a graduate transfer who can play immediately. Linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe is back in the fold and he is the top returning tackler with 63 stops a season ago. The best individual players along the defense reside along the line from a draft standpoint in defensive tackle Chris Johnson and end Derik Overstreet. While both players are fringe pro prospects the best unit as a collected group is the secondary. Two players return as starters from last season although safety Marcus Ward was a starter in the past and he missed nearly all of last season after injury. Ward is now a 5th year senior after granted an extra year of eligibility.

Best Draft Prospects: Chris Johnson DT 7th Round/UFA  2018.                

                                       Derik Overstreet DE  FA 2018.


Special Teams:

Western Kentucky was able to distance themselves from more than one opponent winning the special teams battle in nearly every game they played. The return unit was responsible for threee touchdowns last season and had a pair of other touchdowns called back due to penalty. Skyler Simcox and Jake Collins are back as kicker and punter respectively.


Schedule:

Western Kentucky does escape the likes of Alabama on the schedule this season . Going on the road to Illinois, Vanderbil and Marshall look to be the toughest tests on the docket. It gets a little brutal for Western Kentucky when three of the last four games on the schedule overall are away from home.


Draft and Overall Outlook:

This should be a successfull year for Western Kentucky but there are no Forrest Lamp type players in this draft class or for 2019. There are a few players that will have shot at  a late round seelection or making the roster as an undrafted free agent. Chris Johnson is the player with the most upside for 2018 and could sneak into the late rounds with a big year at defensive tackle.

DJ Boyer