Michael McCammon

Hilltoppers open season on Thursday night against Rice

WKU opens the 2016 season with a key Conference USA matchup against Rice

Western Kentucky's defense of its 2015 Conference USA title begins right from the start as league foe Rice visits Houchens-Smith Stadium on Thursday evening.

Here's a look at some of the particulars:

LOCATION:  Houchens-Smith Stadium (22,113)
DATE: Thursday, September 1
TIME: 7:00p.m.
RADIO: 105.3 FM/1450 AM
TELEVISION: CBS SN

NOTEBOOK

WKU

  • WKU begins its 97th season on Thursday night against Rice.
  • WKU has reached bowl eligibility in five consecutive seasons and in five of seven years as an FBS school. It is the longest streak of bowl eligibility in Conference USA.
  • The Hilltoppers are looking to win their second consecutive conference opener for the first time since taking three straight from 2004-06. Since 1999, WKU is 7-8 in league openers.
  • The Hilltoppers are 57-33-6 all-time in season openers and have opened four consecutive seasons with a win, the longest streak since winning five openers from 1996 to 2000. Over the last 20 years, WKU is 17-3 in home openers.
  • WKU is seeking to become just the second C-USA school to win 14 consecutive games against league opponents, tying a league-record streak set by Southern Miss from Oct. 19, 1998 to Nov. 4, 2000. WKU last lost to a league opponent on Nov. 1, 2014 at Louisiana Tech.
  • The Hilltoppers are 27-9-2 all-time in Thursday games.
  • WKU’s season-long team captains are voted on by the team at the first team meeting of the fall. On offense, OL Forrest Lamp, WR Taywan Taylor and RB Anthony Wales. On defense, LB Drew Davis, LB T.J. McCollum and DB Marcus Ward.  Lamp is a returning two-time captain.

RICE

  • Rice opens play on its 105th season on Thursday night.
  • The Owls are 56-46-2 in openers and have dropped six of its last seven. This is the 31st time the Owls have opened a season on the road (10-18-2).
  • It is the sixth time that Rice will open with a conference road game, going 1-4 in the previous five.
  • In three seasons since C-USA reconfigured, Rice is 16-8 in conference action, which ranks second in the West and fourth in the league. Marshall is 20-4 over that stretch, Middle Tennessee is 17-7 and Louisiana Tech is 16-8.

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KEY PLAYERS

WKU

Mike White, QB: First-year starting quarterback will have the opportunity to shine in the spotlight from the get-go.  The South Florida transfer leads the Hilltoppers in an important game on national television and he'll rise to the occasion.

T.J. McCollum, LB: Had a big season on The Hill after transferring from UAB. He was one of just seven C-USA linebackers to eclipse the 100-tackle mark as his 106 were fourth-most.

Anthony Wales, RB: The Hilltopper ground game should get more of the offensive weight, especially early in the season.  Wales explosiveness will help keep the WKU offense rolling while the new quarterback settles in.

RICE

Darick Dillard, RB:   Preseason Wuerffel Trophy Watch List member who led the Owls with 698 rushing yards and is the active Owls leader with 1,746 career yards which stands 13th on the Rice career list.

Alex Lyons, LB: Senior led the Owls in tackles last season and is a preseason All-Conference choice.

Tyler Stehling, QB: First-year starting quarterback who's best game to date was last fall against WKU, completing 11 of 19 for 150 yards.


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