Kentucky Football: Looking at our Opponents’ Rosters - Western Kentucky University

Almost birds of a feather. - Kevin C. Cox

A Sea of Blue will be taking a look at each opponent's roster as we lead up to August 31st. It is one way you can familiarize yourselves with our opposition before going out and making an emotional bet with friends or professionals.

There were a couple of articles written in the last few days, one which attempted to create fear of Bobby Petrino and another which makes an assumption that Kentucky is going to win fairly easily. Both writers provide reasons for their thoughts. You can read them here and here.

Let’s look at Coach Petrino. Bobby Petrino is currently ranked as a top 15 coach in terms of winning percentage, having won 74.3% of his games since he became a head coach 8 years ago. That’s better than Nick Saban’s 74.0%. The difference is that Saban has been a head coach for 17 years. There’s no question that Petrino is a good coach.

He became head coach at Louisville in 2003 and left the program after the 2006 season to become the head coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Petrino had served as the offensive coordinator for Tommy Tuberville at Auburn before taking the head coaching job at Louisville. During his tenure, his teams play two seasons in Conference USA and two seasons in the Big East Conference. He won a conference championship in the second year in both conferences. While he was at Louisville, his teams never lost more than four games in a single season. And, during his four year stay, his teams played in four bowl games, one of which was a BCS bowl. His bowl record at Louisville was 2-2. He beat Wake Forest 24-13 in the Orange Bowl in his final game and the Louisville Cardinals finished at # 5 in the A/P poll.

At Louisville in 2002, John L. Smith decided to take the head coaching job at Michigan State. His last recruiting class finished at #59 in the Rivals rankings. Petrino’s first class came in at #35 in 2003. His final class in 2006 was ranked 34th. At Louisville, he beat Kentucky 6 out of 6 times. Kentucky had the following glittering seasons during Petrino’s stay in Louisville (41- 9):

2003 – 4-8, 1-7 in the SEC – Louisville 40 UK 20

2004 – 2-9, 1-7 in the SEC – Louisville 28 UK 0

2005 – 3-8, 2-6 in the SEC – Louisville 31 UK 24

2006 – 8-5, 3-5 in the SEC – Louisville 59 UK 28

After his brief stint with the Falcons where Petrino went 3-10 before abruptly leaving, he was named head coach at Arkansas (December 11, 2007).

Petrino's first season as an SEC head coach was less than stellar as he finished up with a 5-7 record. He went 2-6 in the SEC. In the remaining three years before his firing, he went 8-5 (all five losses were to SEC teams), 10-3 (two SEC losses) and 11-2 (two SEC losses).

In 2009, Petrino won the Liberty Bowl 20-17 against East Carolina. In 2010, he lost to Ohio State 31-26 in the Sugar Bowl and in 2011 the Petrino-led Cardinals beat Kansas State 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl. In Houston Nutt’s last year at Arkansas, the Razorbacks were #31 in the Rivals team rankings for recruiting. Petrino’s recruiting was a mixed bag at Arkansas: 36th and in 2008, 16th in 2009, 49th in 2010, and 24th in 2011.

Arkansas and Kentucky did not play against each other before Petrino got caught with his pants on fire.

So, after a year in football purgatory, he became the head coach at Western Kentucky. He went from a contract worth $25.6 million (10 Years) to an $850,000 per year contract at WKU (4 years). Like Stoops, Petrino has one recruiting cycle completed and is working on his second before playing his (their) first game. His 2013 class ranked 90th by Rivals and his 2014 class currently ranks 86th. There is clearly a talent difference, but there always has been.

The vast majority of the WKU roster consists of 2 star players. Here’s how the recruiting classes break down using the Rivals vitals:

2009: 2.08 average stars with a 5.16 average player rating

2010: 2.15 average stars with a 4.98 average player rating

2011: 2.43 average stars with a 5.41 average player rating

2012: 2.56 average stars with a 5.51 average player rating

2013: 2.13 average stars with a 5.30 average player rating.

The incomplete 2014 recruiting cycle show WKU at #86 with 9 players committed. All are 2 stars and their player ratings are 5.4, 5.3, 5.4, 5.4, 5.3, 5.3, 5.3, 5.3 and no rating on one. WKU does have some talent, though.

The 2009 Mr. Kentucky Football, Antonio Andrews , originally committed to the Air Force Academy, but would up at WKU. As everyone should know, he’s one of the Hilltoppers’ top players. Andrews and Barry Sanders are the only two players in NCAA history to eclipse 3,000 all-purpose yards in a single season. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and 132.9 yards per game last year. Kentucky made the astute decision not to offer him during the 2010 recruiting cycle.

On defense, WKU and Willie Taggert hit a homerun with the transfer of Rivals (5.8) 4*Jonathon Dowling from the University of Florida. If you’ll recall, Dowling picked off Maxwell Smith 3 times in last year’s overtime loss to WKU.

So, is the WKU game the most important game of the 2013 season? Yes, it is, but it has nothing to do with last year’s game except for motivation. Should we win? Yes, because of the talent gap. Should the BBN fear Bobby Petrino? No. As the WKU player noted on national TV, "They supposed to be SEC." WKU isn’t SEC, but neither was Kentucky last year. After the WKU game, Miami (Ohio) becomes the most important game of the season, and then Louisville becomes the most important game of the season.

As for the readers, you can make the predictions and you can make the choice to fear Bobby Petrino or not. Next up is Miami.

Link: WKU Media Guide

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