COLUMN: WKU in a bowl game: Why not?

WKU players an coaches celebrate in the locker room Saturday after WKU’s 41-18 win over Troy.

Cole Claybourn

Take a minute to think back to the night of Sept. 17.

WKU had just suffered a 44-16 loss at the hands of Football Championship Series opponent Indiana State. As low as WKU football had been the past several years, there was a sense that the state of the program was even lower after that loss.

A week later, WKU and its fans had their collective heart ripped out against Arkansas State after a fourth and short run that was originally called a first down was reviewed and reversed. WKU went from securing its first win of the season to losing its fourth in a row.

Fast forward to Nov. 26, when the Toppers won their seventh straight Sun Belt Conference game with a 41-18 blowout of Troy on Senior Day and are now waiting to find out if they’ll be invited to a bowl.

WKU will have to rely on the right dominoes to fall and, as Head Coach Willie Taggart has said, the “football gods” will have to watch over the Toppers.

But if you’re a bowl executive, why not pick WKU?

“Who wouldn’t want to watch this football team right now?” Taggart said after Saturday’s game. “I think you’d be a little insane if you didn’t want to watch this football team play. If (bowl committees) know football and they see the way this team is playing, a lot of people in the country will want to see us play right now.”

Taggart has a point.

If there was ever a team that embodied the term “rags to riches,” this team has done that.

A program that looked to be left for dead after perhaps its most embarrassing defeat has suddenly become one of the hottest teams in the country.

The only loss WKU has suffered since that Oct. 1 heartbreaker to Arkansas State was a 42-9 loss to the nation’s No. 1 team, Louisiana State. But even then, there was some optimism that WKU would hold its own, which it did for one half.

If Troy beats Arkansas State next weekend at Arkansas State, WKU will own a share of the Sun Belt regular season title — less than two months after it looked like the season was headed down the tubes.

“I can’t really find the words,” senior offensive lineman Wes Jeffries said. “We started off 0-4 and we just turned it completely around. We’re one of the best teams in the conference.”

Taggart said that’s a testament to his team’s resiliency.

“It could have easily went the other way when we were 0-4,” he said. “They decided to stay there together and help each other out and turn this program around. That’s exactly what they did.”

And now WKU is arguably playing some of the best football in the country — or at least some of the most consistent.

On Saturday, the Toppers just needed a win. They got that and then some in front of a crowd of 15,432.

It was the kind of dominating victory that WKU needed to send one last message to the bowl committees. The most likely destinations are the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Dec. 31, which would be broadcast on ABC, and the Compass Bowl in Birmingham on Jan. 7.

It was enough to convince Taggart that Saturday wasn’t the last game WKU would play this season.

“We’re going to be in a bowl game,” Taggart said. “If Coach Taggart’s got to put us in a bowl game, we’re going to get in a bowl game.”