Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Odds to win Conference USA with Expert Betting Predictions
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are very heavy favorites to win Conference USA. That's a remarkable feat for a team that has a new coach and staff. Jeff Brohm parlayed his success at Western Kentucky into the head job at Purdue - though a big part of me wonders if being at a hopeless Big Ten program is really an upgrade. Mike Sanford Jr., who was previously the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame and then Boise State, where he also played QB back in his day, is the new man in charge. If a 35-year-old first-time head coach is this heavily favored then the team must really be one to contend with.
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2016 in a Nutshell
After opening with a dominating home win against Rice, the team traveled to Alabama, and it went about as well as you would expect - they lost by four touchdowns. After another win they lost a heartbreaker at home to Vanderbilt by a single point in overtime. The pattern continued when they won another easy one before losing a close one at Louisiana Tech by a field goal - their first conference loss since 2014. That woke them up. They had a scare in their next one, winning at Middle Tennessee in double overtime, but that was their first of seven straight conference wins, capped by a revenge win over Louisiana Tech in the C-USA title game. That earned them a shot in the Boca Raton Bowl against Memphis, which they won handily.
All in all 11-3 was a sound accomplishment and enough to get Brohm a new gig, but it had to be seen as worse than they could have hoped for. They had all the makings of a better season - they were tops in the country in points scored and Top 5 in total yards, passing yards, and defensively against the run.
Key Additions and Departures
Brohm and his staff, including former star Louisville QB and brother Brian and offensive coordinator, are gone. QB Mike White is back, and he is excellent. He has to make some adjustments, though, as his is without three linemen, his top running back, his two top receivers, and his top tight end. The skill positions are deep, and there are no major issues, but there are more questions on the line than would be ideal.
On defense the best story is that after N.C. State totally humiliated Notre Dame's offense led by Sanford last year, Sanford hired Clayton White, a member of that Wolfpack defensive coaching staff, as his defensive coordinator. The two had worked together previously, but ignoring that fact makes it a better story. The team lost some depth on defense through graduation, so while they aren't very deep right now they are still very talented - especially in the front seven. They will have a very good run defense again, which puts a lot of pressure on the secondary as teams are forced into passing more. Their DBs are basically all seniors, so the news is good back there - at least for this year.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Schedule Analysis
The best news is that they don't have to play Alabama again. That's tough for the school's coffers - there is good money to be made in being beaten up by good teams - but tough on the record and the psyche. The nonconference schedule is mostly soft. Eastern Kentucky and Ball State aren't much of anything, Illinois is as easy as a major conference foe can be even with Lovie Smith in charge, and they get a shot for revenge at Vanderbilt. The conference schedule is as good as you could hope, too. The three best teams in the conference are likely Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, and Texas San Antonio. They get the first two at home and don't play the third. If they can't win the conference with this schedule then they have issues that aren't evident at this point.
2017-18 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Betting Odds and Trends
Western Kentucky is, not surprisingly, not one of the 36 teams for which BetOnline has listed national championship odds. Even in their best possible case that just isn't in the cards for them. They are, however, in very good shape in their conference. They are heavy -140 favorites to win Conference USA, which has them miles ahead of second choice Louisiana Tech at +550. It is very much their conference to lose, and oddsmakers don't seem to think they will lose it.
The team comes into the season riding an eight-game winning streak to end last year, capped by a 20-point bowl victory over Memphis. They were 6-1 ATS in their last seven, which was a major reversal from earlier on - they had failed to cover six straight spreads starting with their second game. They also turned a corner in terms of totals - they went "over" in seven of their last nine games after going "under" in four of their first five.
2017-18 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Predictions and College Football Picks
There isn't a lot of mystery here. Despite some of the changes that they face, the team is deeper and more talented than the rest of the conference by a wide margin. Sanford is young, but he has accomplished a lot and worked for some very good coaches (I don't necessarily include Brian Kelly in that, but I also don't blame Sanford for any of the circus that last year in South Bend was), and he grew up as the son of a coach (Mike Sr., who was head coach at UNLV and other spots, is now on his son's staff). He'll do fine, and this team will roll to a third straight conference title.
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