When the Hilltoppers clinched their second-consecutive bowl victory, and along with it a 12-2 record, I felt sad. Okay, maybe sad isn't the correct word, but it didn't feel happy. But make no mistake - I was ecstatic. The best season in WKU's FBS history - and potentially ever - was officially in the books, and that 25 ranking from the AP poll certainly wasn't going to move to 26 or below, and hopefully other polls will *finally* follow suit and include the Toppers. There's a lot to like.
But, by the same token, there came the realization - the Brandon Doughty era of Western Kentucky football is officially over. And we may never see another one like it.
That's not to say WKU is all of a sudden going to fall off the map. They've recovered well from key offensive figures leaving. In the first year after Bobby Rainey, the Tops accepted their first ever FBS bowl bid. In the first year after Antonio Andrews, the Hilltoppers won their first ever FBS bowl.
But, the problem with post-Doughty Hilltopper football is that Doughty set the bar so high, the next natural progression is , in fact, regression. Something that, yet again, WKU football hasn't seen (at least, not to this magnitude). But, it's a good problem to have, right?
Doughty's time at WKU (coupled with what Bobby Petrino and Jeff Brohm helped establish) not only provided WKU with unprecedented success on the football field, but it also sets up nicely for future success. Before the Tops even left for Miami, they were linked to a Power 5 quarterback potentially transferring in, and are a favorite rumor for another in the state (but, in reality, this is much more of a "how great would it be for a UK player to leave for WKU" type of deal).
Football can work in Kentucky. Success with Louisville taught is that. Football can also work at Western Kentucky, Doughty taught us that, and as important as his years on the Hill were, the years following him will be second on the list to see how directly his impact was for future recruiting, leading to future success.
It's going to be weird not seeing a #12 on the field. It'll be even weirder to see someone else dawn the number (that's another article for another day). But anytime I think back on the Doughty Era, I'll smile and tell anyone who'll listen "that was just the beginning."