Hilltoppers first team in Kentucky to clinch bowl eligibility

WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) looks for an open receiver after the snap during the game against North North Texas at Apogee Stadium, Oct. 15. Doughty finished the game with 350 passing yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Colin Mitchell/North Texas Daily

Billy Rutledge

Times have changed for the WKU football program. After it joined the Football Bowl Subdivision seven years ago, expectations have drastically changed.

Since going 0-12 in their first season in the FBS, the Hilltoppers have become bowl eligible in five of the six proceeding seasons, including the last five in a row.

WKU’s 6-1 record this season is its best start of the FBS era and marks the earliest the Tops have ever become bowl eligible.

WKU gained its sixth win of the season last Thursday night as the Hilltoppers defeated the Mean Green in Denton, Texas, 55-28. With the victory, the Hilltoppers (6-1, 4-0) became the first bowl-eligible team in the state of Kentucky. 

“I think the reason we are 6-1 compared to where we were last year is because we have had better play consistently from all three segments,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “Our defense is playing better, our special teams have been solid, and in order to be a top-caliber team, all three segments need to be playing well.” 

WKU was led last Thursday by redshirt junior running back Anthony “Ace” Wales, who totaled 256 total yards of offense including three total touchdowns — two rushing, one receiving. 

Wales’ hot performance came after he earned 111 rushing yards against rival Middle Tennessee — his first breakout performance since a hamstring injury limited him early in the season. 

Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty continued his impressive season. He threw all four of his touchdowns in the first half and finished with 350 yards despite only playing into the third quarter. He threw his touchdowns to three different receivers: one to Wales, one to senior Jared Dangerfield and two to junior Taywan Taylor.

The win was the seventh straight conference win for the Hilltoppers and marked the program’s longest streak since winning nine straight against Sun Belt opponents across 2011 and 2012. The Hilltoppers have now won four games in C-USA this season against Louisiana Tech, Rice, Middle Tennessee and North Texas.

“Our goal is to win the championship. That’s still on the table, and that’s what our guys are working hard at,” Brohm said. “We have some good conference games coming up we have to prepare for and win as well; all those games matter.”

The Hilltopper offense continued to dominate the first half. WKU went into halftime leading 34-14 despite some missed opportunities. In its last three games, WKU has scored totals of 49, 35 and 52 respectively.

Hilltopper senior kicker Garrett Schwettman was able to put points on the board when the high-powered offense could not. The all-time leading scorer in program history went a perfect 2-for-2 on field goal attempts of 25 and 43 yards while also making seven extra points.

While the offense did its job, the WKU defense continued to improve. After giving up point totals of 14, 10 and 28 in its last three games, the defense only gave up 28 points in Denton. It only forced one turnover, but going into the game, the team led the nation in turnover margin with 12.

The Hilltoppers’ next game will be in Baton Rouge Saturday, Oct. 24 at 6:00 p.m. against SEC opponent LSU. WKU is 1-1 against Power 5 conference opponents this season.

A previous version of this story contained a typo in a spoken quote by Jeff Brohm as “are guys are.” It should have read “our guys are.” This error has been corrected. The Herald regrets this error.