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Bowling Green (0-0) at Western Kentucky (0-0)



The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Friday, August 29, 7:30 p.m. (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium (22,113) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: BGSU 0-0, WKU 0-0. Away Record: BGSU 0-0, WKU 0-0. Neutral Record: BGSU 0-0, WKU 0-0. Conference Record: BGSU 0-0, WKU 0-0. Series Record: Bowling Green leads, 1-0.

GAME NOTES: Two new head coaches will be on the sidelines when the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers battle the Bowling Green Falcons in a non-conference bout on opening weekend at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.

The head coaching job for the Hilltoppers has become a revolving door of sorts, with Jeff Brohm the third head coach in as many years. Last season Bobby Petrino held the job, helping the team to an 8-4 record and using that success as a springboard to nab his former position at Louisville. Brohm is more likely to stay for several years considering this is his first head coaching gig. It is not the only first for the Hilltoppers, as they are entering their debut season as a member of Conference USA.

Bowling Green produced one of its best seasons in program history in 2013. The Falcons went 10-4, blasted past would-be BCS-buster Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference title game (47-27) before playing in one of the more exciting bowl games against Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. The 10 wins were the most for the team since 2003, and it was just the fifth time it reached double digits since 1962. However, like WKU, the Falcons have a new head coach in Dino Babers, who takes over after Dave Clawson moved on to Wake Forest.

These teams met for the first time in 2007, with Bowling Green rolling to a 41-21 triumph

WKU was one of the best offensive teams in the Sun Belt Conference last year, ranking second in total yards (458.5 ypg) while scoring a healthy 30.8 ppg. An increased level of competition may drop those numbers a bit, but not by much.

Brandon Doughty retains his position as starting quarterback after an up and down junior season. Doughty threw for 2,857 yards and completed 65.8 percent of his pass attempts, but he was also prone to mistakes, tallying as many touchdowns as interceptions (14). His yardage total and completion percentage were program records so if he cleans up his sloppy play, the Hilltoppers should be in good shape.

That is especially true if Willie McNeal and Taywan Taylor can produce on the outside. McNeal was Doughty's favorite target last season, leading the team in receptions (46), yards (599) and touchdowns (five). Taylor had 25 grabs for 305 yards and two scores, while tight end Mitchell Henry (25 receptions, 305 yards, two TDs) has sure hands as well.

The biggest challenge facing coach Brohm and the Hilltoppers is replacing departed running back Antonio Andrews, who piled up 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground alone last season. Leon Allen (357 yards, five TDs) was the primary backup and gets a chance to be the feature back in 2014.

Picking up yards wasn't WKU's only strength last season, as it was also one of the stingier defensive squads around. The Hilltoppers ranked 14th in the country in yards allowed (339.2 ypg). The unit is largely retooling this year, especially at linebacker where three new starters enter the fray. The best part of the group is in the trenches, with Gavin Rocker (37 tackles), Bryan Shorter (18 tackles) and Devante Terrell (33 tackles) all experienced producers along the defensive line.

The Hilltoppers will get a real test right out of the gate with Bowling Green, a team that was among the top-30 scoring squads in the country last year (34.8 ppg). The Falcons also ranked in the top-30 in total offense (459.4 ypg).

Although the receiving corps isn't loaded, the Falcons should be just fine under center with the return of Matt Johnson. The redshirt junior, who landed himself on a few preseason award watch lists following a breakout 2013 campaign, is the key for a big follow-up to last season. Johnson threw for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns on 64.2 percent completions. Even more important, Johnson avoided costly mistakes, tossing a mere seven interceptions.

Leading receiver Shaun Joplin (54 receptions, 908 yards, three TDs) graduated so a new No. 1 target needs to be found. Heath Jackson (32 receptions, 364 yards, three TDs), Ryan Burbrink (30 receptions, 477 yards, two TDs) and Ronnie Moore (28 receptions, 547 yards, seven TDs) are the top candidates, with Moore providing some real excitement with his play-making ability.

Travis Greene rushed for 1,594 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and he gives the Falcons flexibility so they do not have to lean entirely on Johnson. William Houston served as a hammer in the red zone, scoring 11 touchdowns while tallying just 211 yards.

Bowling Green was the best defensive team in the MAC last season, and among the best in the country as well. The Falcons ranked 10th nationally in yards allowed (321.4 ypg). Their main strength was in slowing the pass, finishing sixth in the nation in that department (170.9 ypg). A step backward may be in the cards this season, with the only returning starter in the secondary being safety Ryland Ward (81 tackles, two INTs).

Both Brohm and Babers have inherited talented teams coming off of impressive seasons. While the Hilltoppers have some strength on offense, the loss of Andrews will be tough to overcome. Meanwhile, the Falcons offense looks poised to keep the tempo up and the points flowing.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bowling Green 38, Western Kentucky 27

08/29 15:15:06 ET

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