BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — Western Kentucky has opened the last six seasons against Bowl Championship Series teams, playing Georgia, Florida and Nebraska among others.
Saturday's opener will have a different tone, however, as the Hilltoppers play Football Championship Subdivision opponent Austin Peay at WKU's Houchens-Smith Stadium.
WKU enters the game winless in its last two games against FCS opponents, including a 44-16 rout last September against Indiana State. However, Hilltoppers middle linebacker Andrew Jackson said this week they should have no problem with the Governors.
"We should put up 60 points," Jackson said.
Everyone else around the program has cautioned against looking past Austin Peay, especially in light of the Indiana State loss.
"Really, the key thing to beating this team is just treating them like any team in conference — respect them as much as they respect us," free safety Kareem Peterson said. "The moment we go out there doubting them or not playing them as hard as we should, it can end up being like last year, and we don't want that at all."
The Hilltoppers are coming off a 7-5 season, their first winning season since 2007 WKU won seven of its last eight games a year ago, with the loss coming to then-No. 1 LSU in Baton Rouge.
Still, the Hilltoppers were the only team in the bowl-eligible Football Bowl Subdivision with a winning record not to receive a bowl berth. WKU coach Willie Taggart said several times this offseason he believes the Indiana State loss cost the Hilltoppers leverage in the bowl process.
That, along with a need to win a season opener for the first time since 2005, is why Taggart called Saturday's game the most important football game in WKU's football history.
"It's important that we come out and take care of our business and create national identity," Taggart said. "You can't do it if you don't start out right."
The Hilltoppers and Governor offenses are similar. Both teams' attacks are based on running out of the I-formation.
However WKU's running game will look different this year without Bobby Rainey, the school's all-time leading rusher. Taggart will call upon a group of backs to replace him, including Keshawn Simpson, Antonio Andrews and true freshman Leon Allen.
Simpson, a junior and former Madison Central High School standout who has seen limited playing time during his WKU career, is listed as the starter.
"I'm really excited to just show what I can do," Simpson said. ". I can run the ball just as good as Bobby and we're not missing a beat now that he's gone. As a group we still can put up big numbers rushing the ball."
Those running backs and everyone else will have to treat Austin Peay as any other opponent if the Hilltoppers are to avoid another FCS letdown, Taggart said.
"We're not in a position to overlook anyone," Taggart said. "We know they're capable of beating us if we don't come ready to play."