WKU Hilltoppers: CFN College Football Preview 2021

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College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the WKU season with what you need to know.

Contact/Follow @ColFootballNews & @PeteFiutak

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
WKU Schedule Analysis
– WKU Hilltoppers Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 5-7 overall, 4-3 in C-USA
Head Coach: Tyson Helton, 3rd year, 14-11
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 115
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 97
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 40

WKU Hilltoppers College Football Preview 2021: Offense

I will fully admit that I enjoyed the bit. I kept telling everyone who would listed to always go with the under on WKU games because the Hilltopper offense never, ever, ever scored. The program managed 24 points or fewer in each of the first nine games before breaking out of its shell for a wee bit late in the year.

The team averaged 290 yards and 19 points per game, it had no downfield passing game and the ground game didn’t go anywhere.

Head coach Tyson Helton would like his offense to be more explosive, please. So …

Houston Baptist lit up everyone last year. The offense hit North Texas for 480 passing yards and three scores, lit up Texas Tech for 572 yards and four touchdowns, and bombed away on Louisiana Tech for 406 yards and five scores thanks to QB Bailey Zappe.

So Helton signed on Zappe – and now a several WKU quarterbacks are in the transfer portal, including starter Tyrrell Pigrome – and HBU offensive coordinator Zach Kittley with his Air Raid style, and leading receiver Jerreth Sterns, and 31-yard-per-catch Josh Sterns, and second-leading receiver Ben Ralzlaff.

And Buffalo TE Zac Lefebvre is coming in, and Daewood Davis is coming over from Oregon, and …

The passing game is going to work.

The offensive line wasn’t all that bad, but it’s going to get a whole lot stronger with a few transfers in – the loss to guard Tyler Witt to Purdue hurts, though – and enough nice parts back to allow all the Houston Baptist guys time to work.

Leading rusher Gaej Walker is in the transfer portal, but 5-9, 190ish pound juniors Jakairi Moses and CJ Jones are quick backs who’ll get more work. Adam Cofield is coming in from North Dakota State to help.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
WKU Schedule Analysis

NEXT: WKU Hilltoppers College Football Preview 2021: Defense

4. WKU Hilltoppers College Football Preview 2021: Defense

The offense might have had issues, but the defense wasn’t all that bad. There wasn’t enough of a pass rush, but the secondary was solid – it allowed just 177 yards per game – and the scoring D gave up just 25 points per outing. Like the offense, though, there are a whole slew of changes under defensive coordinator Maurice Crum. The transfer portal has been busy.

Six defensive backs are transferring out, but landing corners Davion Williams from Michigan State and Tre Shaw from North Carolina is a massive boost. The corners are deeper now around Dominque Bradshaw, and second-leading tackler Antwon Kincade is back.

The star of the defense is back. Top sack man and backfield playmaker DeAngelo Malone returns for a super-senior season, but losing interior pass rusher Ricky Barber to UCF is a problem. There’s size up front, though, and enough options to play around with to be okay.

The linebacking corps, though, is relying on the transfer portal after losing Kyle Bailey and Eli Brown. Enough options are coming in from Power Five programs to be okay.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
WKU Schedule Analysis

NEXT: WKU Hilltoppers College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

WKU Hilltoppers College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best WKU Hilltoppers Offensive Player

QB Bailey Zappe, Sr.
Here we go – we’re about to have a whole lot of fun. The 6-2, 215-pound transfer from Houston Baptist fired at will on FBS teams in his four game run in 2020, throwing for 1,833 yards and 15 touchdowns with one pick. He’s got his offensive coordinator, his receivers, and the team that’s been dying to crank up the production.

2. OT Cole Spencer, Jr.
3. WR Jerreth Sterns, Jr.
4. OT Mason Brooks, Jr.
5. TE Joshua Simon, Soph.

Related

WKU Football Schedule 2021, Analysis

Best WKU Hilltoppers Defensive Player

DE DeAngelo Malone, Sr.
The 6-4, 230-pound pass rusher remains among the best and most productive ends in college football. Ultra-quick and always working, he made 71 tackles with six sacks and 11 tackles for loss and ten quarterback hurries in 12 games.

That’s coming off an 99-tackle, 11.5-sack, 21-tackle for loss junior run, and with six sacks in 2018. Now as a super senior, he’ll have one more unstoppable year.

2. S Antwon Kincade, Sr.
3. DT Jeremy Darvin, Sr.
4. CB Dominique Bradshaw, Jr.
5. P John Haggerty, Sr.

Top Incoming WKU Hilltoppers Transfer

WR Jerreth Sterns, Jr.
The top transfer is QB Bailey Zappe, but he’s going to get a whole lot more production happening with his top target coming along.

Sterns is only 5-8 and 180 pounds, but he’s a volume catcher with 47 grabs in the four games for Houston Baptist – making ten or more grabs in each – hitting Texas Tech for 130 yards and a score and Louisiana Tech for 138 yards and three touchdowns.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
WKU Schedule Analysis

NEXT: WKU Hilltoppers College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

WKU Hilltoppers College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

WKU Hilltoppers Biggest Key: Offense

Don’t screw it all up by turning it over. The key to the offense is generating some semblance of consistently explosive production, and that’s happening with all the parts coming in from Houston Baptist. QB Bailey Zappe was careful with the ball in his four games, but WKU as a whole has to stop fumbling.

Interceptions weren’t an issue last year, but the 11 lost fumbles in the 12 games were too much. They slowed down late – the team didn’t turn it over in any of the last four regular season games – but this isn’t a team that can handle losing the turnover margin.

WKU Hilltoppers Biggest Key: Defense

The run defense is important, but … it won’t have to be the rock it was last year.

If the Hilltoppers didn’t crush defensively, the offense wasn’t going to get the job done and carry its end of the bargain to keep up. So the D doesn’t have to be perfect, but if the front can stop the run like it did last year, everything should be fine.

However, WKU was 1-7 when allowing 140 rushing yards or more.

WKU Hilltoppers Key Player To A Successful Season

DT Jeremy Darvin, Sr.
The defensive front should be fine as long as DeAngelo Malone is doing DeAngelo Malone things in the backfield, but the interior needs some help after losing Ricky Barber to UCF.

The 6-1, 295-pound Darvin is good enough to hold up against the run, made 31 tackles with three sacks and 31 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, and now he has to do even more as the veteran anchor in the interior.

WKU Hilltoppers Key Game To The 2021 Season

Florida Atlantic, Nov. 20
The offense needs to be humming by this point. The Hilltoppers have a relatively easy run in Conference USA play to kick things off, but if everything goes right, the last two games against Florida Atlantic and at Marshall should decide whether or not they’re playing for the conference title.

FAU has beaten WKU over the last four years including a 10-6 thriller – zzzzzzzzzzz – last season. This time around will be more entertaining.

WKU Schedule Breakdown & Analysis

2020 WKU Hilltoppers Fun Stats

– 2nd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 113 – WKU 54
– Fumbles: WKU 17 (lost 11) – Opponents 12 (lost 4)
– 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 19-of-33 (58%) – WKU 18-of-32 (56%)

NEXT: WKU Hilltoppers College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

WKU Hilltoppers College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Let’s just play along and assume Tyson Helton fixed the glitch.

The program went from being offensively dominant back in the 11-3 2016 season, to inconsistent offensively in 2017, to dormant in 2018, serviceable in 2019, and awful in 2020.

Meanwhile, Houston Baptist lit everyone up like a Christmas tree over a four game run in 2020, so in comes most of the stars of the offense to make everything start working again.

But this is sure going to be interesting.

Set The WKU Hilltoppers Regular Season Win Total At … 8

No one has a more active transfer portal. As of this exact moment, 25 players transferred out, 17 are coming in, and superstar DE DeAngelo Malone is still around for his super-senior season.

It should all add up to a night-and-day different team that’s going to be a whole lot more fun.

WKU might be better, but assume losses to Indiana and at Michigan State. It’s Game On in the other ten games.

Conference USA is about as light ant breeze as it gets, there’s no UAB or Louisiana Tech on the slate, and if you can’t get by a run of UTSA, at Old Dominion, at FIU, Charlotte, Middle Tennessee, and at Rice clean before getting to the showdowns against Florida Atlantic and at Marshall, you’re not doing anything worthy of the Conference USA title.

It’s quietly been a very, very nice program with six bowl appearances in seven seasons and two Conference USA titles. Expect a seventh run to a bowl game and pencil in this team on the short list of those in the conference championship mix.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
WKU Schedule Analysis