How will the Western Kentucky offense operate without Brandon Doughty? This is a question every bettor needs to analyze before placing a Hilltoppers wager this season.
Head coach Jeff Brohm has turned Western Kentucky into a perennial Conference USA favorite in just three years at the helm. The Hilltoppers' success under Brohm is based on their highly efficient passing offense. The team put up 44.3 points per game last season, second in the FBS to Baylor (46.6), and ranked first in points (.600) and yards per play (7.1). However, this season may be his most challenging, losing a host of experience, including stud quarterback Brandon Doughty.
The Hilltoppers return only 11 starters this year: seven on offense and four on defense. To put this into perspective, only 16 FBS teams return 10 or fewer for 2016. Doughty, two-time C-USA Male Athlete of the Year, will be missed dearly. Drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round, he graduated owning 37 school records, including every major passing one. In fact, he led the FBS in passing yards (9, 885) and passing touchdowns (97) his final two seasons.
Doughty's replacement is unknown; the quarterback race is wide-open. Last year's backup, redshirt senior Nelson Fishback, a dual-threat option and only player with experience under center for Brohm, is out for the season after suffering a pectoral injury in the weight room over the summer. That leaves redshirt senior Tyler Ferguson, redshirt junior Mike White, redshirt sophomore Drew Eckels and incoming freshman Steven Duncan as options.
White, a South Florida transfer, is the favorite to lead the first-team offense. Although experienced, his numbers leave a lot to be desired. In two seasons with the Bulls, he played in 17 games, about half of those as starter. A traditional pocket passer, he tossed for 2,722 yards on 215-of-417 passes with 11 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Whoever wins the battle under center will inherit a young offense anchored by two dynamic playmakers: wide receiver Taywan Taylor and running back Anthony Wales. They are hands down the most talented players on the team, each climbing many analysts' NFL Draft eligible ranks at their respective positions.
Defense is typically an afterthought in Bowling Green, and with the loss of so many starters, it could be a tough year for the unit. The line is its strength with Derek Overstreet, Louisville transfer Nick Dawson-Brents, and Omarius Bryant staffing the trenches. They will have to be in tip-top shape to manage the workload the quick-paced offense places on the unit. Expect the Hilltoppers to yield a bevy of points.
In the last two seasons, the Hilltoppers are 13-4 SU and 10-6-1 ATS in C-USA play. In all but five of their divisional clashes, they were favored by a touchdown or more, going 11-1 SU and 8-3-1 ATS. As short-priced chalk or dogs, they are 2-3 SU and ATS. The OVER is 11-5-1, eclipsing a 68.6 average total by 11.4 points per game. Brohm's offense has surpassed their projected team total in all but four.
Sportsbooks expect a dogfight for the C-USA title. The top five teams are all priced in the single digits, with the Hilltoppers the third choice overall. The college football odds are as follows: Southern Mississippi +250, Marshall +300, Western Kentucky +350, Middle Tennessee +550, and Louisiana Tech +650 at BetOnline.
Bettors should probably employ a wait-and-see approach this year with Western Kentucky, especially with all of the question marks surrounding the offense. Two games we are circling on the calendar for potential value, though, is its matchups against SEC foes early in the year. On September 10, Brohm and company travel to Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide, while two weeks later they host the Vanderbilt Commodores at Houchens-Simth Stadium.
Western Kentucky beat, but failed to cover a 2.5-point spread against the latter last season in Nashville. Overall, the Hilltoppers are 1-4 SU and 0-5 ATS against Power 5 schools under Brohm. The betting public will likely overvalue the team early in the season, and mistakes will be made with an inexperienced bunch. A fade against the spread is a strong lean in both College Football Picks.