WKU prepares for Troy amid bowl berth speculations

Teammates celebrate with Tyler Higbee on his reception for a touchdown in the second quarter against North Texas at Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas on Saturday. WKU won 31-21 to become bowl eligible.

Brad Stephens

WKU clinched bowl eligibility with a win over North Texas on Saturday, the Toppers’ sixth of the year.

But there’s still no guarantee that WKU will go bowling.

The Toppers weren’t given bids to the two bowls with Sun Belt Conference tie-ins — the GoDaddy.com and New Orleans Bowls. Those invites instead went to Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette, respectively.

That means WKU will have to receive an at-large invite to a bowl which doesn’t have enough teams qualified from one or both of its tie-in conferences in order to make a bowl.

Athletics Director Ross Bjork said following the North Texas win that the best way for the Toppers to boost their resume in the bowl selection process would be notching their seventh win this Saturday against Troy.

Head Coach Willie Taggart on Monday agreed with Bjork and said his Toppers were focused not on bowl scenarios, but on beating the Trojans.

“The only score Coach T will be looking at on Saturday will be the Western Kentucky and Troy score on Saturday,” Taggart said. “All that other stuff doesn’t even matter. We’ve got to go out and take care of business.”

There are 70 bowl slots available for the 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Sixty-four teams are currently bowl eligible, with 16 teams needing one more win for bowl eligibility and two teams needing two more wins.

According to a WKU athletics report, bowls with potential openings for the Toppers include:

-Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco

-BBVA Compass Bowl, Birmingham

-AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis

-Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla.

-Music City Bowl, Nashville

-Military Bowl, Washington D.C.

For the sake of keeping the pool of bowl eligible teams as small as possible, and therefore improving WKU’s chances of an at-large bid, the Toppers need as many as possible of the following outcomes to occur in the next two weeks:

-Maryland beating North Carolina State (6-5) on Saturday. (N.C. State must win seven games for bowl eligibility because two of its wins came against Football Championship Subdivision opponents).

-West Virginia beating Pittsburgh (5-5) on Friday and Cincinnati beating Syracuse on Saturday (5-5). Pittsburgh and Syracuse both losing would ensure that one team would finish the year with a losing record after the teams meet on Dec. 3.

-Louisville (on Saturday) and West Virginia (on Dec. 1) both beating South Florida (5-5).

-Either Rutgers (on Saturday) or Cincinnati (on Dec. 3) beating Connecticut (4-6).

-Indiana beating Purdue (5-6) on Saturday.

-Baylor beating Texas Tech (5-6) on Saturday.

-Mississippi beating Mississippi State (5-6) on Saturday.

-Kentucky beating Tennessee (5-6) on Saturday.

-Wake Forest beating Vanderbilt (5-6) on Saturday.

-Central Florida beating UTEP (5-6) on Friday.

-Temple beating Kent State (5-6) on Friday.

-Northern Illinois beating Eastern Michigan (6-5) on Friday.

-Colorado State beating Air Force (6-5) on Friday.

-Both Nevada (on Saturday) and New Mexico State (on Dec. 3) beating Utah State (5-5).

-Either Tulane (on Saturday) or Brigham Young (on Dec. 3) beating Hawaii (5-6).

Some WKU players took to social media on Monday to discuss the bowl situation.

Senior kicker Casey Tinius (@ctwku83 on Twitter) wrote, “The TOPS are some big time UK Football Fans this week! Part of the #BBN for a week! #BEATUT.”

Junior defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen (@Uncle_Elory407) tweeted, “I don’t understand how your 2nd in the conference and there is a chance you not go to a bowl game.”

But junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes told the media on Monday that he wasn’t concentrating on WKU’s bowl hopes.

“I’ve been hearing a lot from teammates, but me personally I’m just taking it one game at a time,” Jakes said. “We just win, and hopefully (a bowl invitation) just happens.”

Junior safety Kareem Peterson agreed with Jakes, saying, “Troy is our bowl game right now.”

“We hear a lot about bowl because this is the first time we’ve been bowl eligible,” Peterson said. “Like (Jakes) said, if we don’t beat Troy that’s out the door.”

While Taggart has encouraged his team to ignore bowl talk, the athletic department has encouraged fans to proactively participate in the bowl process by reserving potential tickets.

Those logging onto wkusports.com are met with a splash page saying “YOUR HILLTOPPERS ARE BOWL ELIGIBLE!!” and giving them a chance to make a $25 down-payment toward the bowl game for which WKU is selected.

The $25 payment is refundable pending WKU’s selection, and, if the Toppers are selected, the payment will be applied to that particular bowl.

Bjork said emails were sent to fans following the North Texas game encouraging them to begin reserving bowl tickets.

“We need to lobby the bowls that we have a great program and we’ll bring fans,” Bjork said on Saturday. “Get as many (tickets) as you can, because that will help.”

Associate Athletic Director Todd Stewart told the Herald that by the middle of the week the school should have figures on the number of bowl reservations placed. 

Bjork said the university has also been “lobbying” for the Toppers to get a berth by calling the bowls and pitching why they should consider WKU.

But Jakes said the best way for the team to help themselves in the bowl process is to take care of their own business and beat Troy on Saturday. 

“Obviously right now it’s not playing out right,” Jakes said. “But we just need to take one game at a time, keep winning and hopefully it’ll happen.”