Western Kentucky and Old Dominion will forever be linked and judged off one another due to the fact they entered Conference USA in the same year*.
*I may or may not (but totally am) making this up.
Anyway, this was a matchup that might have flown under the radar when the schedule was announced earlier this year, but one I was looking forward to because last year's tilt was one of the more exciting/odd games of the slate. If you take out the Marshall and Bahamas Bowl wins, the ODU game probably WAS the "highlight" game of the season for the Hilltoppers, in which a bounty of school records were set and the two teams combined for 117 points in the Tops 66-51 win at Smith Stadium.
But, times they are a-changin, and it looks like it should be a pretty easy Hilltopper victory on Saturday. Or the ultimate trap game for WKU. Which one will it be? LETS FIND OUT!
Start Time: 11 a.m. CT
Location: Foreman Field, Norfolk, Va.
TV: Fox Sports Networks. Here is a list of times and channels.
Betting Line: WKU -24. Over/Under 65.5
The Monarchs: Old Dominion just isn't the same from a year ago. After losing Taylor Heinicke due to graduation, Shuler Bentley has stepped up to become the main man, but still has a lot of work to do to regain the offensive prowess the Monarchs showed a year ago. The freshman from South Carolina has completed just under 50% of his passes for 722 yards but just three touchdowns to five interceptions.
What Old Dominion lacks in the passing game, they make up for on the ground with Ray Lawry, who is the leading rusher not just for the Monarchs, but for all of Conference USA with 830 yards on 136 rushes and eight touchdowns. Lawry also has added 12 receptions and 101 yards through the air, including a 70-yard receiving touchdown. As a freshmen a year ago, Lawry chewed up WKU's defense for 148 yards and four (!!!) touchdowns on 25 carries. Eeeowwww.
Western Ky.: The Hilltoppers were able to hang with LSU until midway through the third quarter, came a defensive-holding penalty away from being blown out late in the third quarter, made it a two score game early in the fourth quarter, and finally fell by 28 points to the #5 (now #4) team in the nation.
Whew. Not many teams can do that.
It will be interesting to see what lessons, if any, the Tops learned from playing LSU that close and see how they put it in play in a conference game. The danger on Saturday - is Old Dominion a trap game? It's homecoming on the Hill next weekend, then a trip to Miami to take on FIU and then the season closes at home against Marshall. Three key games that no one would blame the Tops if they were looking to now, but don't let the Monarchs sneak up behind you.
We didn't see that "breakout" game from Ace Wales last week, so I'm hoping we see him take control early an often (think Leon Allen against Army last year). Hopefully there's no lingering effect from when Brandon Doughty looked dinged up last week on the aforementioned scoop and score by the Tigers that was nullified by a defensive holding (man, he did not look right after that for about two series), and hopefully WKU doesn't fall victim to the all enticing trap game.
Prediction: We are getting to the point in the season now where any team who plays WKU wants to be the team that knocks them from the unbeaten in C-USA play pedestal. Old Dominion opened the season with a win against Eastern Michigan, not a bad way for the Monarchs to begin the year, but it's been downhill since - losses to NC State, Marshall and a bad blowout loss to App State (who all of a sudden looks like the Fun Belt frontrunner) and are coming off a 42-12 loss to FIU.
Old Dominion's lone win? Charlotte, who is trying to navigate their way through a first year of FBS play.
Some people might be putting WKU on upset alert, but I am not one of those folks. ODU is struggling to find an identity, and WKU aint gonna help you find it. Give me the Big Red Glops, 59-21.