MinerRush: Before the official announcement, what was your reaction to the grumblings, and rumors WKU might join the C-USA?
Wave The Red Towel: There honestly wasn't much before the announcing of FAU, FIU, MTSU and North Texas to C-USA, which seemed to come out of nowhere. After that, it more so became a matter of "when," and not "if." What a lot of WKU fans don't know is that the Athletic Department toyed very strongly with trying to go to the MAC as opposed to C-USA, but a lot of people (myself included) wanted to remain with the four Sun Belt schools (but mostly our main rival, MTSU) and C-USA was the only conference that was strongly pursued by WKU, and luckily, it's a happy ending.
MR: Which sport or sports do you think WKU makes the most impact in right away in C-USA?
WTRT: Volleyball. They finished their Sun Belt stint with back-to-back-to-back regular season championships, and won the conference tournament two of the last three years as well. They were ranked top 25 in the country for the first time at the end of 2012, and began the season there last year. There are some key names that left after last year - namely the Tops' defensive specialist Ashley Potts - but there is a ton of senior talent this year, as well as a nationally ranked recruiting class. In looking at last year's C-USA volleyball standings, it was very top heavy and only one current C-USA team won 20+ games. If things carry over from the volleyball side of WKU, it'll be a fun one-two race to the finish with UTSA. Also, WKU is coming off a record-setting track and field season on both the boys and girls side. Unfortunately, my knowledge isn't as good on that, but I do know the women were ranked for the first time in program history last year and the men made it to the NCAA finals in Oregon. And, finally, WKU has traditionally had great success in Swimming and Diving, and the men's program has already made an impact in the conference, as they won last year's conference tournament in Atlanta.
MR: After an 8-4 record last year, what are the expecations in football this season?
WTRT: Last year's 8-4 was the best FBS record in WKU history, as well as their third straight winning and bowl eligible season since moving up to "big boy," football. And, while their football success is newfound, and as weird as it is to say, there's already a winning tradition on the Hill, and people are again expecting a bowl eligible record this year, and with the move to C-USA, the biggest excitement in basketball-crazed Kentucky is the bounty of bowl opportunities that WKU will have compared to the Sun Belt (which they've been "snubbed," from making two of the past three years). If the Tops' don't make a bowl, again, it'll be more disappointing (in my eyes) than the basketball team not making the tournament.
MR: Who is the best offensive, and defensive player on the football team?
WTRT: The best offensive player on the football team is a question that WKU fans aren't quite sure of yet. Obviously, the past two years it has been Antonio Andrews, but he is now with the Tennessee Titans. If the past couple of running back transitions are any indication, it'll bare good news for Leon Allen, who will be RB1 after waiting under the wing of A.A. the past two years (in the same way A.A. waited under the wing of Bobby Rainey). On defense, I'd argue Cam Thomas. He was named to CFPA Defensive Back Award Watch List, and has been under the wing of guys like Jonathan Dowling and Andrew Jackson much of the same way Allen was with Andrews. Both the running game and linebacking corps/secondary are the biggest holes coming into 2014, and Allen and Thomas might be the key to early stability there.
MR: After 20 wins last year, how much remians or what to expect this season from the basketball team?
WTRT: Plain and simple, if the Tops aren't in the tournament, it's unacceptable. As you noted, WKU amassed 20 wins last year, and fans on twitter made their voice known that they still were unhappy with the performance of the team on almost a nightly basis. Are you kidding me?! Now, there are somethings that can and do drive Tops' fans crazy (which, I'm sure we will discuss as the season comes closer), but it was a quiet 20-win season, if that is possible. There is a lot that remains, and will actually be led by some underclassmen in Trency Jackson and Chris Harrison-Docks. The Tops have senior leadership in T.J. Price and hometown hero George Fant, but they are simply not vocal enough to lead the team in the traditional senior-way. WKU also holds a European center, Ben Lawson, who some college ball experts believe will be one of the top players at the position in a year or two, and hopefully we can really see his emergence this year.
MR: Who are the top contributors/newcomers in basketball?
WTRT: All four guys I mentioned above, Price, Fant, CHD and Jackson, are the main contributors you'll hear about on a nightly basis. CHD had a bit of trouble controlling and running the point as a freshman last year, but with a year under his belt, I'm expecting him to be more confident in that role. But, he can shoot the living day lights out of the ball. T.J. will contribute, but will also disappear at times, Trency does whatever is needed, and George is the big-body down low (which is kind of unfortunate, since he isn't as big as you'd like him to be at times), as he can get rebounds and is the back-door finisher. I'm not incredibly well versed in the recruiting, but the Tops do have a Mr. Basketball finalist coming to the Hill by the name of Justin Johnson, who I'm hoping can step up and make an immediate impact.
MR: Who do you think becomes an instant rival in football and basketball for WKU before a game is even played?
WTRT: I'm going to assume this excludes MTSU, who the Tops share the "90 Miles of Hate," rivalry with from back before the Sun Belt days, although sharing a conference seemed to significantly intensify it. Just through interacting with other blogs and fans on twitter and such, I learned that, for whatever reason, Marshall seems to have an affinity for the Tops, and us at WTRT as well as the guys over at HerdNation have named WKU/MU meetings as "The Herd," but I expect that to be a very friendly rivalry. Also, WKU has a connection to Old Dominion, as Dr. Wood Selig, their Athletic Director, is a former Hilltopper AD. So that'll be sure to spark a rivalry. But, aside from those three schools, I can't really think of anyone that will be an instant rival, which I think is more fun, becauseanything can start one. The one thing I would like to see, though, is a consistent rival, and not just one in football (i.e. Rice) and another in basketball (you guys).
MR: What is your take of the geographic landscape of the conference?
WTRT: It's very much like what the Sun Belt was. It's fairly contained. We are used to going to Texas, Florida and Alabama so those locations will be nothing new. However, what is a bit unusual is that we are no longer the northern-most school in the conference, as both Marshall and ODU are above us in geography. I'm just happy to see no consistent west coast trips. Although, being from Georgia, it is a bummer WKU moves into another conference without a footprint in the state. But, hopefully, that'll change here quickly.
Special thanks goes out to Fletcher Keel for a great Q&A, check out their work on Wave The Red Towel.