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Western Kentucky: What is this year's must win game of 2016?

After dominating Conference USA in 2015 the Hilltoppers will have to play as the hunted rather than the hunter in 2016.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Every team has a "must-win game." Sometimes its a rivalry game, sometimes its a division foe or maybe even a non-conference opponent. No matter the case, every team has a game that they absolutely must win in order to accomplish their goals.

For Western Kentucky the goal is the same as last year: Go back-to-back and win CUSA for the second straight year. But with a schedule that features just one likely loss, WKU may be able to achieve more than winning CUSA for the second straight year. Here are three options that qualify as a must-win if the Hilltoppers are to achieve their season goals.

Sept. 24 - vs Vanderbilt

Last year WKU defeated Vanderbilt 14-12 in SEC territory to open the season. This year the return home-and-home affair will be played in Bowling Green.

I put this game down as a must-win because a victory over what could be a decent Vanderbilt team could hold some weight if WKU is in the mix for a New Year's 6 Bowl at season's end. If WKU can finish the season 12-1 with their only loss to Alabama, the Hilltoppers could make a case for nabbing the NY6 bid depending on how Houston's season fares.

This game also has some weight on the recruiting trail as WKU has done pretty well in the state of Tennessee and a win over Vanderbilt for the second straight season will only make their case for Tennessee prospects to consider WKU.

S&P gives WKU a 66% chance of coming out with a win, giving the WKU faithful another opportunity to brag about beating another SEC opponent with our favorite meme.

Oct. 15 - At Middle Tennessee

WKU will enter this game with somewhat of a chip on their shoulder as the Blue Raiders were picked by the media to finish ahead of them and win CUSA East.

Dubbed '100 Miles of Hate,' the matchup between MTSU and WKU is easily becoming one of the better rivalries in CUSA and with what could be on the line, this game could be even more intense.

Last year the Hilltoppers won 58-28 but haven't won in Murfreesboro since Willie Taggart was the head coach. In 2014 Jeff Brohm lost in his only trip to Johnny 'Red' Stadium 50-47.

Nov. 26 - At Marshall

The Moonshine Throwdown has become the marquee game for CUSA the last two seasons and if WKU is in position to clinch CUSA East and keep their hopes alive for a potential NY6 bid, it will be the biggest game of the year in CUSA once again.

Last time here WKU ruined Marshall's bid for an undefeated season in a classic triple overtime 67-66 thriller. Although Marshall was picked to finish third in CUSA East, I can easily see the winner of this game advancing to the CUSA Championship Game

Verdict

A win over Vanderbilt would loom large down the road if WKU is able to get through CUSA undefeated (they did last year) but in the grand scheme of things it pales in comparison to the other two games.

This decision boils down to two train of thoughts. If you believe MTSU is the favorite to win CUSA, then you think the contest in Murfreesboro is WKU's must-win game. If not, then your choice is the Moonshine Throwdown.

As I have mentioned before, I think WKU should be the favorite in CUSA East. I also believe that the Moonshine Throwdown will have bigger things on the line than just who wins CUSA East.

Because of that, and the fact that WKU fans seem to have more disdain for Marshall than MTSU, the Moonshine Throwdown gets my vote.

Previously

FAU

FIU

MTSU