Hilltoppers prepare for chance at history

WKU’s quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) celebrates catching a touchdown pass on a trick play during the Hilltoppers’ 35-19 win over Florida Atlantic University on Saturday at Smith Stadium.

Billy Rutledge

The WKU football team entered the 2015 season with one goal in mind: to win the Conference USA Championship.

The goal has been preached since preseason, shouted at practice for motivation and held in the minds of fans across the region.

Now, in the Hilltoppers’ seventh FBS season, the goal is closer than ever before.

After comfortably beating Marshall last week, the Hilltoppers (10-2, 8-0) cinched the C-USA East Division and have advanced to the C-USA Championship Game, when they will host West Division Champion Southern Mississippi (9-3, 7-1).

Taking place in Bowling Green, the game will offer WKU a chance to win the conference title in only its second season as a member of the league.

“I think it’s definitely the Super Bowl for us,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “It’s a championship game at our place, at our house, in front of our fans. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Brohm is also convinced of the opponent’s abilities. Southern Miss has lost only to Marshall, Nebraska and Mississippi State.

“We’re excited to play an outstanding team as well. It’s not a game where we feel we have an edge; I don’t feel that way,” Brohm said. “I feel we’re very evenly matched.”

The Hilltoppers currently carry an 11-game winning streak over C-USA opponents — the longest active streak in the country against conference opponents.

WKU has again been led by its high-powered offense. Through 12 games, it has tallied 530 points: two points ahead of last year’s school record pace.

WKU is aiming for its first conference championship at the FBS level but has won 10 championships in program history.

Only five of those teams also won double-digit numbers of games in the season; the Hilltoppers achieved that this year after their 49-28 victory over Marshall.

“It feels amazing … You know all the guys; we’re all excited for it,” redshirt senior cornerback Prince Charles Iworah said. “Our main goal this summer was to get a conference championship and get there. It’s staring us right in the face right now, so we’re all just looking forward to practice and the game.”

Only the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (9-3, 7-1) stand in the Hilltoppers’ way.

After starting the season 3-3, the Golden Eagles have won six straight games, most recently defeating Louisiana Tech to win the C-USA West Division and to advance to the championship game on Saturday.

Southern Miss averaged 59.7 points per game over the last three contests and scored at least 30 points in all nine victories.

WKU is just the seventh team in C-USA’s 20-year history to finish undefeated in conference play and might become the first team to go undefeated and win the conference championship.

The Hilltoppers also gained the right to host the game at home.

“I was extremely happy with the crowd this past game. They were into it. They definitely gave us an advantage. I’m hopeful we can have that again,” Brohm said. “These things don’t come around very often, so I think all of our guys have to take advantage of it.”

Since C-USA began holding a conference championship, the host school holds a 7-3 all-time record.

Under Brohm, the Hilltoppers are 10-1 at home, average 48.6 points per game and hold a nine-game winning streak.

“There aren’t many games being played on this day. It’s a championship game. There’s a lot riding on it,” Brohm said. “Our players — like I said, it means a lot to them. They’ve put a lot of hard work into it. I know that we would be excited to have a great crowd. We definitely think that we would have an edge if we can get that, and I feel very good about it.”

The two schools will meet for just the second time in program history. The first meeting was in 2012, when the Hilltoppers defeated the Golden Eagles 42-17. Saturday’s game will kick off at 11 a.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN2.