With WKU football still abuzz among fans after the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl win, it seems like an opportune time to take a (very) early look at the Tops next season roster.
Below, we break down who returns and who could step up for WKU's offense in 2015.
This one will hurt most of WKU's upcoming opponent's feelings, right from the start. The Toppers return the NCAA's leading passer (4,830 yards, 49 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) for 2015, and his backup is a former three-star Alabama transfer.
Wild Card: So./Fr. Drew Eckels. I wouldn't expect Eckels to get many reps next year, but he's looked good enough in practice at times that he could be a wild card to contend down the road.
Running back: Sr. Leon Allen, Jr. Anthony 'Ace' Wales.
While Doughty gets many of the (much deserved) accolades, the best pro prospect on the Tops' roster may actually be Allen. The 6-foot, 235-pound back gained 1,542 rushing yards and 476 receiving in 2014, joining an elite group of running backs like Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson, and Chris Johnson in putting up comparable single-season numbers (link). His backup, Wales, is a former three-star recruit who gained 536 rushing yards on 82 attempts himself (a 6.3 yards per carry average.)
Wild Card: Fr. D'Andre Ferby. One of WKU's highest profile commitments in 2014, the talented but injury-prone back has a unique combination of size and shiftiness at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds. If he can stay healthy, expect him to at-worst start getting carries, and could play an important role in WKU's offense going forward.
The Toppers get four of Doughty's top five most targeted players back in 2015, led by Dangerfield, who finished with 825 yards and 11 touchdowns on 69 catches. The only question is who takes over reps at slot receiver, where both Willie Mcneal and Joel German depart after exhausting eligibility. Fant, a former three-star recruit, won KHSAA's 2013 Mr. Football award. Farris, also a former three-star recruit, isn't as polished as Fant, but has a lot of raw ability. A number of other players could take over in the slot, so this will be a position battle to watch in the spring and summer.
Wild Card: Quin Jernighan (assuming he signs.) Likely WKU's top overall commitment in their 2015 class, Jernighan has the size (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and skill to play right away. Even with all the talent WKU returns at receiver, I don't see how they can keep Jernighan off the field for very long.
Higbee is a powerful weapon in WKU's offense as a hybrid WR/TE, and would have had much better totals this season if not sitting out a number of games for injury. Gorski excels as a blocker.
Wild Card: Ty Jefferson (assuming he signs.) Three-star 2015 recruit is ranked as the No. 68 tight end nationally in the 2015 class, and is very similar to Higbee in size and skillset. He'll take over Higbee's role in the offense when he departs.
An offensive line without a single senior sounds less than ideal, but WKU looks more than solid here. Lamp, a potential NFL prospect, was WKU's best overall lineman in 2014. Ray and Williams will return as solid, experienced veterans. Sims could take over for the departing Cameron Clemmons at right tackle, and while those are big shoes to fill, Sims is talented enough to start making a name for himself in 2015. The questionable position is center--Max Halpin was the early starter in 2014, but injured his back against Navy, and his replacement Derrick Stark exhausts his eligibility. If Halpin returns 100 percent healthy from back surgery, you can say WKU returns four of their five starting offensive linemen from 2014.