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August 14, 2012
The excitement surrounding WKU football is building as the Sept. 1., home opener against Austin Peay approaches. We ranked this season's matchups, in order of anticipation, from No. 12 to No. 1. No. 12 represents the least anticipated matchup of 2012, while No. 1 takes the top spot.
The games near the bottom of the list were fairly easy to rank, but the one's near the top make for good debate. Which game are YOU anticipating most this year?
No. 12: Florida Atlantic -- Picked No. 9 out of 10 teams in this year's pre-season Sun Belt coaches poll, this Nov. 10., home matchup should be one of the easier games on WKU's schedule. The Hilltoppers defeated the Owls 20-0 in last season's matchup (on the road).
No. 11: Louisiana Monroe (Homecoming) -- The Warhawks were ranked No. 6 in the pre-season Sun Belt coaches poll. Not a single ULM player was voted on the pre-season All-Sun Belt Conference team.
No. 10: Troy -- A traditional power in the Sun Belt, Troy is ranked directly behind WKU in the Sun Belt pre-season coaches poll at No. 5. With the Hilltoppers already facing a tough conference road schedule headed by FIU, Arkansas State, and ULL, this game could be a must-win towards WKU's mission to make their first ever bowl appearance.
No. 9: North Texas -- UNT was ranked No. 8 in the pre-season Sun Belt coaches poll. WKU defeated UNT 31-21 (on the road) last season, and this year have them at home. Note--This is the Hilltopper's final regular season game.
No. 8: Austin Peay -- The only FCS opponent on WKU's schedule, they made our list ahead of a few Sun Belt schools because of the traditional buildup surrounding the home opener.
No. 7: Southern Miss -- Conference USA's Southern Miss finished 12-2 last season, but lost a large portion of their roster. Still, one of the more anticipated matchups that also comes at a crucial point in the schedule for the Hilltoppers, after coming off consecutive weeks against SEC opponents Alabama and Kentucky.
No. 6: Louisiana-Lafayette -- Ranked slightly ahead of WKU in the Sun Belt pre-season coaches poll at No. 3, the Hilltoppers travel to play ULL in their second-to-last game of the regular season. This game will be vital for both schools vying for bowl positioning, with the outcome having a big effect on Sun Belt standings (thus, bowl tie-ins.)
No. 5: Florida International -- FIU received some votes in the national pre-season Top 25 coaches poll. One of the favorites in the Sun Belt, WKU defeated the Panthers 10-9 in Bowling Green last year on a game-winning field goal as time expired. With this year's game in Miami, WKU has a chance to go on the road and upset the pre-season balance in the conference.
No. 4: Middle Tennessee -- WKU's biggest rival. Thursday night kickoff. Televised live on ESPNU. Need I say more? The atmosphere in Bowling Green for this matchup will certainly be one of the best in the 2012-2013 athletic calender.
No. 3: Arkansas State -- One of the pre-season favorites in the Sun Belt, Arkansas State is lead by new head coach Gus Malzahn, who left the offensive coordinator position with the Auburn Tigers to take over the reins with the Red Wolves. Yet another important road game on the schedule for the Hilltoppers, they'll look to take down pre-season Sun Belt Player of the Year, QB Ryan Aplin. A win in Jonesboro, Ark., would be huge in vaulting WKU towards a post-season bowl trip.
No. 2: Alabama -- Defending college football national champions. Ranked No. 2 in the pre-season national coaches poll. Home opener in Tuscaloosa. SEC tailgating at its finest. How is this game not No. 1?
No. 1: Kentucky -- The 2012-2013 Hilltoppers have a chance to permeate their legacy in school history by defeating in-state school Kentucky in Lexington. It's no secret that many fans from both teams felt WKU could have (no, SHOULD have) won last year's matchup in Nashville. Even though Kentucky traditionally finishes middle-to-bottom in the SEC, it's STILL the SEC, and the opportunity for a Sun Belt school like WKU to take one--on the road--only comes so often.
WKU is returning a large majority of its starters from last year's team, while Kentucky lost its top defenders in Danny Trevathan and safety Winston Guy. Marcus Caffey, a converted running back who won a starting cornerback job in the spring (read that sentence again,) is ineligible this season with academic issues. Obviously the Toppers lost Bobby Rainey, but with a quality returning offensive line, the run game should show little slowdown.
In short, WKU's program is on the up-swing, while Kentucky may be heading the other way. This game marks a rare perfect storm for the Hilltoppers to go into Lexington and emerge with a victory, proving to all college sports fans around the state that Kentucky and Louisville are not just a 1-2 man show anymore.
Excited about Hilltopper football? Check out updates from practice in WKU Confidential.
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