NOTEBOOK: WKU beginning ‘new season’ with Sun Belt slate

NOTEBOOK: WKU beginning 'new season' with Sun Belt slate

Jonathan Lintner

If you needed a reason to prove the start of Sun Belt Conference play important to the WKU football team, consider this: sophomore tight end Jack Doyle shaved his mustache.

“It’s gone,” Doyle said. “It’s a new season.”

And a new opportunity.

Doyle and the Toppers said on Monday that the goal remains to win the Sun Belt Conference this season. The quest begins this Saturday at Florida International, another 0-4 team that battled a tough non-conference schedule.

“A lot of them were meaningful, but this one’s a lot more meaningful,” said Head Coach Willie Taggart.

Jeff Sagarin’s ratings place WKU’s schedule thus far as the fifth-toughest in the country. FIU’s schedule, according to those same ratings, is No. 23. Those are the top two among Sun Belt members.

The Panthers have more speed than USF, Taggart said, adding to the “challenge” WKU faces this weekend.

“I wouldn’t look at their record and think they’re a bad football team just like I don’t think we’re a bad football team,” Taggart said. “I think it’s going to be a challenge for us. It’s not going to be easy — that’s for sure.”

Sophomore defensive lineman Jamarcus Allen said the Toppers will key on FIU receiver T.Y. Hilton this weekend. The Panthers’ offense contains similarities to the pass-happy offense WKU faced against Indiana.

“We need to win first and third down,” Allen said. “Going back to the South Florida game, we did good on third down, which was an improvement from the Indiana week.

“I think our only mishaps in the South Florida game were that we gave up more rushing yards than we wanted to. FIU’s not too big of a run team, so I guess our improvement this week is to probably get more rush in the backfield.”

Hilton, a junior, has 19 receptions for 199 yards this season. He’s less than 200 yards away from being a 2,000-yard receiver for his career.

Bye week? Week off?

Taggart suggested neither exist for the WKU football team. Instead, he labeled the past week in which the Toppers didn’t play a game an “improvement week” for everyone from players to coaches and managers.

“I thought we improved,” Taggart said. “I thought we worked on areas that needed work.”

WKU moved away from its regular schedule last week, taking three days off before returning to the field on Sunday for practice. In his time off, Taggart said he was able to soak in college football’s national scene more than usual.

“All I know is if football is not on TV, I don’t watch it,” Taggart said. “I watched a lot of ballgames.”

Taggart hits the road

While the Toppers were off the field, Taggart was on the road recruiting for the class of 2011. It’s an easier task now than when Taggart lured the Sun Belt’s top class, according to Rivals.com, in a mere three months on the job.

He said the selling points — an opportunity “to be a part of something special” — haven’t changed since then.

“I think kids are starting to see what we’re doing offensively, and it will affect them if they decide to come to Western,” Taggart said. “They see it now, and they see that we’re making improvements. They see how they can fit in and really make this thing go.”

On the injury front…

Taggart said the few injuries the media is aware of should be cleared up after the “improvement week.”

Safeties Mark Santoro and Ryan Beard, offensive lineman Mychal Patterson, all returned to the practice field on Sunday, Taggart said. He did not elaborate on other injuries or game statuses for Saturday.

“I think we’re good to go,” Taggart said.