The much anticipated 2012 WKU Football season finally gets underway on Saturday as long-time foe Austin Peay visits Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium for a 6 p.m. (CDT) kickoff in a game televised on ESPN3. This will mark the 42nd all-time meeting between the Hilltoppers and Governors in a series that dates back to 1940. WKU has never lost to APSU in Bowling Green (20-0-1), and has won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the two schools.
Saturday's season opener has been designated as the Live United White Out Game. Fans are encouraged to wear white to the game, and the first 4,000 Fans will receive a free "Live United" White Out t-shirt as they enter the game courtesy of WKU Athletics, United Way, Fruit of the Loom and U.S. Bank.
Rare Home Opener - Saturday's game with Austin Peay marks the first time the Hilltoppers have opened a season at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium since 2005. Ironically, that is also the last time WKU started a year 1-0 as it opened that season with a 63-3 win over West Virginia Tech. The Hilltoppers are 54-33-5 (61.4%) all time on opening day - no score is available for the first game of 1916.
Protecting Feix Field - WKU enters the 2012 home opener with Austin Peay on a three-game home-field winning streak - significant because the Hilltoppers had dropped 18 straight at home prior to a 42-23 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 22, 2011. During the final three home games last season, the Toppers outscored their opponents 93-50. That included a 19-point win over ULL and a 23-point victory over Troy in the season finale.
Week One Wins Equal Success - Over its history, WKU has earned a win in the first game of the season 54 times. In 45 of those seasons, the Hilltoppers went on to finish with a .500 record or better. Over their first 93 seasons of existence, the Hilltoppers have put together 60 winning seasons, and four more campaigns with a .500 record.
Stat Leaders Return - Outside of all-time leading rusher Bobby Rainey, the Hilltoppers return every statistical leader from the 2011 season. Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes is back for his fourth season under center after tallying 1,854 passing yards and 2,015 yards of total offense a year ago. His main target - senior tight end Jack Doyle - is back after hauling in 52 catches for 614 yards. Junior linebacker Andrew Jackson emerged on the scene last year, leading the Toppers with 109 tackles, while junior punter Hendrix Brakefield ranked among the league leaders averaging 41.6 yards per punt.
Veteran Toppers - Compared to his first two seasons as head coach, Willie Taggart will be able to rely on a much larger veteran presence on his 2012 squad. Nearly half of this year's roster (50 of 104) enter either their junior or senior season of eligibility. That trend is only natural considering that in 2011 only 34 of 103 players (33%) were "upperclassmen", and just 29 of 102 Hilltoppers (28%) fell in that category in 2010.
Three Toppers Named Preseason All-SBC - When the Sun Belt Conference announced its official preseason all-conference team in July, the Hilltoppers were represented by three of their top returning weapons. Offensively, senior tight end Jack Doyle earned all-league honors after pacing WKU in receptions in 2011. A pair of defensive stoppers were also named to the team as junior Andrew Jackson - WKU's top tackler in 2011 - was one of three linebackers selected, while senior Quanterus Smith was named among the league's top four defensive linemen after ranking second in the conference in sacks last year.
Graduates On The Gridiron - Of the 20 seniors on the 2012 WKU roster, 25 percent will not only be playing their final season for their team, but also for their alma mater. Five seniors already hold bachelor's degrees from WKU. Jamarcus Allen and Luke Stansfield both walked the graduation line in December of 2011, while Tye Golden, Kenny Martin and Marcus Vasquez earned their degrees in May of 2012.
Sun Belt Streak Lives Into 2012 - The Hilltoppers bring a seven-game Sun Belt Conference winning streak into the 2012 season. After an 0-4 start to the year (including a loss to Arkansas State in the league opener), the Toppers rattled off seven straight wins in league play, and won seven of their final eight games of the year - the lone loss in that stretch came at LSU. WKU will have to wait to extend that streak until Sept. 29, when it opens conference play at ASU. Only four FBS schools enter 2012 with a longer active, regular-season conference winning streak than WKU. TCU, which is moving to the Big 12 this season, won its last 24 league games as a member of the Mountain West. Arkansas State (SBC), Houston (Conference USA) and LSU (SEC) have all won eight straight games in their respective conferences.
Watch Out - Over a 10-day stretch in July, the National College Football Awards Association released the preseason watch lists for 15 of their awards. WKU was represented more than ever in 2012 as three Hilltoppers were named to the preseason list for four of those trophies. For the second straight year, senior tight end Jack Doyle was recognized among the best at his position as a candidate for the John Mackey Award. He was also selected to the first ever Senior Bowl watch list earlier this month. Junior linebacker Andrew Jackson was rewarded for his outstanding 2011 season by earning a spot on the list for the Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker) and Bronko Nagurski Trophy (nation's best defensive player). Jackson earned a spot on a third watch list as he joined senior offensive lineman Adam Smith as preseason candidates for the Rotary Lombardi Trophy (nation's best lineman or linebacker).
Streak Stands at 119 - Throughout the move to the FBS level, WKU has been able to keep an impressive streak intact now for 10 straight seasons. WKU has not been held scoreless in a game since a 14-0 home loss to Western Illinois on Sept. 14, 2002. The streak stands at 119 games entering the 2012 season. That is also the longest streak without being shut out of any team in the Sun Belt Conference. Currently, only 39 teams in the football bowl subdivision have a streak of 100 games or more. The previous WKU record for consecutive games scoring was 88, set between the 1965 and 1973 seasons. After being blanked by the Leathernecks, the Hilltoppers dropped just one more game in that '02 campaign as they went on to capture the I-AA National Championship.
Toppers On The Tube - As the season gets underway, nine of WKU's 12 games during the 2012 season are scheduled to be televised. Opportunities for the other three contests (ULM, FIU and ULL) could be announced at later dates. Three games - Austin Peay, Southern Miss and Arkansas State - will be available exclusively online at ESPN3.com, while the Hilltoppers will have a trio of regionally televised games at Alabama (SEC Network), and at home against Florida Atlantic and North Texas (Sun Belt Network). WKU will also appear on three nationally televised games on ESPNU at Kentucky, at Troy, and home against Middle Tennessee. The contests with Troy and MTSU will be Thursday night games.
The Hilltoppers In OT - Since the 1996 season, the Hilltoppers have played an overtime contest eight times, compiling a 8-1 mark in those games. The first two overtime games in the program's history both came against Murray State in 1996 and 1997. Each went multiple overtimes, with WKU winning 44-41 in two extra frames in '96, then following it up a year later with a 52-50 win in three OTs. The Toppers' only overtime loss was a 23-20 setback to Northern Iowa on Nov. 5, 2005. WKU has won its last three OT games - at Arkansas State in 2010, and at Middle Tennessee and ULM in 2011.