With the first game of the regular season five days away, WKU coach Willie Taggart admitted to some nerves at the Toppers’ weekly media luncheon on Monday.
“I am nervous, I’ll tell you all that now,” he said. “For some reason I just get nervous. I did that as a player too, so I think it’s a good thing.”
Taggart has the weight of expectations to worry about this season. The WKU football program generated the most buzz it’s had in its short run as a Football Bowl Subdivision team when the Toppers went on a late run through the Sun Belt Conference to finish 7-5.
It was the first winning season for WKU in the Sun Belt and it’s first winning season since the Toppers became a full FBS school in 2009.
Taggart took the podium at Diddle Arena on Monday to discuss how the Toppers are preparing for Austin Peay, their first opponent of the 2012-2013 season.
He was joined on stage by his three team captains — senior tight end Jack Doyle, senior defensive lineman Jamarcus Allen, and junior punter Hendrix Brakefield.
Austin Peay is the only Football Championship Subdivision team on WKU’s schedule this season, but everyone who spoke said the Toppers would not overlook the Governors.
WKU has gone 0-2 in its last two games against FCS schools, inculding a blowout home loss to Indiana State last season.
“Those two games we lost, it was heartbreaking, but it’s in the past,” Allen said. “We’re looking forward. We’re a team, we learn from our mistakes and we’re not going to make the same mistake again.”
His sentiment was shared by Taggart, who said he has no doubt his team isn’t overlooking Austin Peay.
“We’re not in a position to overlook anyone, Taggart said. “The last two times (WKU has played FCS schools) they’ve beaten us and we know they’re capable of doing that so we’re going to come ready to play.”
Austin Peay and WKU have a long history against each other. Saturday marks the 42nd meeting between the two schools.
WKU holds a 34-6-1 all time advantage in the series and won the last game in 2006, but Taggart said the Governors might as well be any other team on the schedule.
“We’re not taking this team for granted,” the coach said. “We’re going to prepare just like we prepare for anyone else with them and I told our guys I want them to know Austin Peay inside out, everything they do. I think that’s what it’s going to take for us.”
The game is also important for the Toppers because WKU hasn’t started off the year with a win since 2005.
Doyle said a win on Saturday would help earn respect from around the league for a WKU program that is starving for it.
“We’re not going to get respect just by talking about it, we have to go out there and play,” Doyle said. “Every game is an opportunity to, as coach Taggart would say, show your craft. We’re excited to go out there and play and I think we’ll be just fine.”
Monday’s luncheon also marked the release of the depth chart for the first game of the season.
While there were no major surprises, it was notable for giving the first look at who might get the majority of the playing time at each position in the coming weeks.
At running back, junior Keshawn Simpson was listed first, with junior Antonio Andrews behind him. Taggart said while Simpson was listed first, he won’t be the only back to see the field.
“We’ll have a rotation when we go in there, and as the game goes on we’ll adjust,” he said.
Elsewhere, junior Kiante Young was at the top of the strong safety category, with sophomore Jonathan Dowling listed as second.
Taggart said having Dowling, a Florida transfer and former four-star recruit, listed as coming off the bench shows how strong the Toppers are at the position.
“That just goes to show you what kind of depth we have over there,” Taggart said. “We’ve got some guys that stepped up and are playing ball, but he’ll play, too.”
The depth chart also addresses the hole in the defensive line left by senior Quanterus Smith, who will serve a one-game suspension on Saturday for violation of team rules.
Sophomore T.J. Smith was listed as the starting defensive end, with redshirt freshman Gavin Rocker backing him up.
Taggart said he thinks the two underclassmen can replace Quanterus Smith, WKU’s top pass rusher in 2011, for a game.
“They’ve done a good job during training camp, they’ve been here a year now, and now it’s time to take the training wheels off and let these guys ride,” Taggart said. “We’re looking for them to show up and show out. We’re looking for them to do something, go out on the field and make something happen for us.”
They will have the benefit of lining up with Allen, who said he thinks the WKU defensive line will be fine on Saturday.
“T.J. and Rocker are willing to learn, they’re young guys, I’m confident in their play since ‘Q’ is going to be out,” he said.
Allen and the Toppers have one more week to prepare for Austin Peay before this weekend’s game. The defensive tackle said the Toppers aren’t planning on taking their opponent lightly.
“They put their shoulder pads on just like we put ours on,” Allen said. “Anybody is capable of beating anybody. We’re just going to go out there and play our best and come out on top.”