Western Kentucky Hilltoppers football

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WKU Hilltoppers football
2016 WKU Hilltoppers football team
WKU Hilltoppers wordmark.png
First season 1908
Athletic director Todd Stewart
Head coach Jeff Brohm
3rd year, 21–8 (.724)
Stadium Houchens Industries–L. T. Smith Stadium
Seating capacity 22,000
Field surface FieldTurf
Location Bowling Green, Kentucky
NCAA division Division I FBS
Conference Conference USA
Division East
All-time record 540–380–32 (.584)
Bowl record 4–1 (.800)
Claimed nat'l titles 1 (FCS)
Conference titles 12 (7 Division II, 4 FCS 1 Football Bowl Subdivision)
Colors Red and White[1]
Fight song Stand Up and Cheer!
Mascot Big Red
Marching band Big Red Marching Band
Rivals Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders Marshall Thundering Herd
Website WKU Official Athletic Site

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers football program is a college football team that represents Western Kentucky University (WKU). The team is currently a member of Conference USA, which is a NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The program has 1 national championship (FCS/I-AA), 11 conference championships (1 SIAA, 9 OVC and 1 Gateway) and 5 Consensus All-Americans. The team's head football coach is Jeff Brohm. The Hilltoppers play their home games at Houchens Industries–L. T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Kentucky.[2]


Early history[edit]

Western Kentucky first fielded a football team in 1908. The program's first coaches were M.A. Leiper and Roy Manchester. The Hilltoppers didn't compete in football from 1917–1919 because of World War I. L.T. Smith, whose name bears the Hilltoppers' home stadium, coached the team for two seasons from 1920–1921.

Edgar Diddle era (1922–1928)[edit]

Better known for serving as Western Kentucky's iconic basketball coach, Edgar Diddle coached the Hilltoppers football team for seven seasons. The Hilltoppers had their first football successes under Diddle, who was a dual athlete himself and encouraged his players to do the same so they could stay in shape.

Carl Anderson era (1929 and 1934–1937)[edit]

Carl Anderson served two stints as Western Kentucky's head football coach. Anderson posted a 31–12–3 record as the Hilltoppers head football coach.

Nick Denes era (1957–1967)[edit]

Nick Denes coached WKU football for 11 seasons, compiling a 57–39–7 mark for a .587 winning percentage. Denes was also the former WKU Hilltoppers baseball head coach, in which Nick Denes Field is named after.

Jimmy Feix era (1968–1983)[edit]

Jimmy Feix is the most successful coach in Western Kentucky football history. He complied a 105–56–6 record in 16 seasons as head coach. He led the transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS). His teams won six Ohio Valley Conference championships and two Division II runners-up in 1973 and 1975. Feix was also a six-time OVC Coach of the Year. His winning percentage (.6488) is also the highest among all coaches in Western Kentucky football history.

Dave Roberts era (1984–1988)[edit]

Dave Roberts took over the Hilltoppers football program after Feix's retirement. Roberts posted a 26–30–1 record in five seasons as head football coach. He left after the 1988 season to accept the position of head football coach at Louisiana-Monroe.

Jack Harbaugh era (1989–2002)[edit]

Jack Harbaugh served as the Hilltoppers head football coach for 14 seasons, compiling a 91–68 record, two conference championships (OVC 2000, Gateway 2002) and the 2002 Division I-AA National Championship. Harbaugh took the Hilltopper football program from the depths of despair in the early 1990s to its best stretch since the legendary Jimmy Feix coached on the Hill. Jack and his wife Jackie are credited with saving the WKU Football program. Jack's two sons, Baltimore Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh and Michigan head coach, Jim Harbaugh are also credited with helping their dad with recruiting and building a football powerhouse.[3]

David Elson era (2003–2009)[edit]

Coach David Elson led the Hilltoppers for six seasons, five of which were at the Division I-AA level and the last being WKU's first season in Division I-A (now FBS) as members of the Sun Belt Conference. After leading a successful I-AA (now FCS) WKU program, the Tops gained I-A (now FBS) membership. WKU's first FBS year resulted in a 0–12 record in 2009 and led to Elson's firing.

Willie Taggart era (2010–2012)[edit]

Willie Taggart returned to his alma mater as head football coach from his position as Stanford running backs coach, where he served under Jack Harbaugh's son Jim Harbaugh.[4] In Taggart's three seasons, the Hilltoppers went 2–10, then back to back 7–5 seasons that included an upset of Kentucky in Lexington in 2012. That was Western Kentucky's first win over an SEC opponent in program history. Despite the surprising 7–5 record in 2011, a season in which the Hilltoppers went 7–1 in their final eight games, they were not invited to a bowl game. In 2012, the Hilltoppers were invited to the Little Caser's Bowl. Taggart left WKU on December 7, prior to the December 26, 2012 Little Caser's Bowl, to accept the head football coach position at South Florida.[5] Lance Guidry, WKU's defensive coordinator was named interim head coach and led the Hilltoppers in their first bowl appearance as an FBS member. WKU was defeated 21- 24 in the 2012 Little Caesar's Bowl by Central Michigan.[6] Taggart, who started all four years as the Hilltopper's quarterback from 1995 to 1998, ran a run-heavy West Coast offense as WKU's head coach that helped develop leading rushers Bobby Rainey and Antonio Andrews.

Bobby Petrino era (2013)[edit]

Former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino was hired as the new head football coach following Taggart's departure.[7] In the news conference announcing Petrino's hiring in December 2012, athletic director Todd Stewart called the hiring a "landmark moment" in the history of WKU football.[8] Petrino led the team to a second straight win over Kentucky in August 2013, his first game as the Hilltoppers head football coach.[9] The Hilltoppers finished the 2013 regular season with an 8–4 record but were snubbed from a bowl appearance.

On April 1, 2013, it was announced that Western Kentucky would join Conference USA in all sports effective July 1, 2014.[10]

In January 2014, it was announced that Petrino would leave WKU to accept the head football coach position at Louisville.[11]

Jeff Brohm era (2014–present)[edit]

After one season as offensive coordinator for the Hilltoppers, Jeff Brohm was promoted to the program's head football coach, replacing Petrino.[12] In his first season, WKU went 8–4. Highlights of the season include defeating #24 Marshall in Huntington 67–66[13] and winning the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl 49–48 over Central Michigan.[14] Quarterback Brandon Doughty led FBS in passing yards with 4,830. He also threw for 49 Touchdowns and was named 2014 Conference USA Most Valuable Player.[15]

Brohm led WKU to an eleven-win regular season in 2015, highlighted by an undefeated conference record, WKU's first appearance in the top 25, and a Conference USA championship (beating Southern Miss in the championship game). The Hilltoppers defeated South Florida, who was coached by former Hilltopper player and coach Willie Taggart, in the Miami Beach Bowl 45-35, ending the season with a 12-2 record and ranked 24th in the nation.

Logos and uniforms[edit]

Traditionally, the logo for Western Kentucky athletics was a diagonal "WKU" lettering. Although the "WKU" is still in use, the primary logo was switched in 2003 to a red towel with an embossed "WKU" wordmark in white.[16]

The Hilltoppers have a long relationship with Russell Athletic for their uniforms and the contract was renewed through 2016. Red and white are the primary colors of the football uniforms with an occasional gray or black uniform.

Before the 2011 season, head coach Willie Taggart announced new uniforms that were worn through the 2012 season. The highlight of the design were 2 shoulder stripes and featured bold "WKU" lettering on the chest.[17] During the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, the Hilltoppers wore an alternate gray uniform with the same design template.[18]

On July 18, 2013, head coach Bobby Petrino held a launch event for new uniforms for the 2013 football season. Photos had already been released of chrome football helmets a few months after he was hired. Three WKU uniforms were released at the event and each design was paired with a chrome helmet. The new black alternate uniform received the most attention on social media.[19] The white away uniform included red sleeves in the design and all three pants had "Hilltoppers" lettering down the side.[20] The red design included black sleeves and all three uniforms had the Western Kentucky seal as a watermark in the numbers.[21]

All-time record vs. CUSA teams[edit]

Official record (including any NCAA imposed vacates and forfeits) against all current CUSA opponents:

Opponent Won Lost Tied Percentage Streak First Last
Charlotte 0 0 0
Florida Atlantic 2 5 0 .286 Won 1 2008 2015
FIU 5 4 0 .556 Won 3 2002 2015
Louisiana Tech 2 3 0 .250 Won 1 1939 2015
Marshall 3 4 0 .429 Won 2 1941 2015
Middle Tennessee 30 33 1 .477 Won 1 1914 2015
North Texas 3 4 0 .429 Won 3 2007 2015
Old Dominion 2 0 0 1.000 Won 2 2014 2015
Rice 2 0 0 1.000 Won 2 2015 2016
Southern Miss 2 0 0 1.000 Won 2 2012 2015
UTEP 1 0 0 1.000 Won 1 2014 2014
UTSA 1 0 0 1.000 Won 1 2014 2014
Totals 53 53 1 .500

NCAA affiliations[edit]

Conference affiliations[edit]

National championships[edit]

Year Selector Coach Record
2002 NCAA Division I-AA Jack Harbaugh 12–3–0

Conference championships[edit]

WKU was a 1AA football independent from 1982 through 1998 and again in 2007 and 2008 while transitioning from FCS to FBS.

Year Conference Record
1932 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association 7–1–0
1952 Ohio Valley Conference 9–1–0 (co-champions)
1963 Ohio Valley Conference 10–0–1
1970 Ohio Valley Conference 8–1–1
1971 Ohio Valley Conference 8–2–0
1973 Ohio Valley Conference 12–1–0
1975 Ohio Valley Conference 11–2–0 (co-champions)
1978 Ohio Valley Conference 8–2–0
1980 Ohio Valley Conference 9–1–0
2000 Ohio Valley Conference 11–2
2002 Gateway Football Conference 12–3 (co-champions)
2015 Conference USA 12–2 (8–0)

Bowl Games[edit]

WKU competed in two "College Division" bowl games prior to the NCAA instituting playoffs for lower division teams in 1973. In 2009 WKU completed its transition from Division I-AA/FCS to FBS. All bowl games since then were at the NCAA Division I FBS level.

Season Date Coach Bowl Result Opponent
1952 December 7 Jack Clayton Refrigerator Bowl W 34–19 Arkansas State
1963 December 28 Nick Denes Tangerine Bowl W 27–0 Coast Guard
2012 December 26 Lance Guidry (interim) Little Caesars Pizza Bowl L 21–24 Central Michigan
2014 December 24 Jeff Brohm Bahamas Bowl W 49–48 Central Michigan
2015 December 21 Jeff Brohm Miami Beach Bowl W 45–35 South Florida

NCAA Playoff appearances[edit]

The NCAA began Division II National Football Championship in 1973. WKU made NCAA Division II playoff appearances in 1973 and 1975. NCAA Division I-AA was formed for football in 1978, and WKU moved up from Division II to Division 1-AA at that time, and all playoff appearances since then were at the Division 1-AA level. In 2006 the name of Division 1-AA was changed to NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). In 2007, WKU initiated the transition to NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and became ineligible for any further playoff appearances.

Year Record Coach Results
1973 12–1 Jimmy Feix Lehigh W 25–16; Grambling W 28–20; Louisiana Tech L 0–34 (NCAA Runners-up)
1975 11–2 Jimmy Feix N. Iowa W 14–12; New Hampshire W 14- 3; N. Michigan L 14–16 (NCAA Runners-up)
1987 7–4 Dave Roberts Eastern Kentucky L 17–40
1988 9–4 Dave Roberts Western Illinois W 35–32; Eastern Kentucky L 24–41
1997 10–2 Jack Harbaugh Eastern Kentucky W 42–14; Eastern Washington L 21–38
2000 11–2 Jack Harbaugh Florida A&M W 27–0; Appalachian State L 14–17
2001 8–4 Jack Harbaugh Furman L 20–24
2002 12–3 Jack Harbaugh Murray St W 59–20; W. Illinois W 31–28; GA Southern W 31–28; McNeese St W 34–14 (NCAA Champions)
2003 9–4 David Elson Jacksonville State W 45–7; Wofford L 17–34
2004 9–3 David Elson Sam Houston State L 24–54

Hilltoppers in the polls[edit]

In 2008, WKU began competing in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, and as such was eligible for the post-season AP poll and the USA Today coaches' poll.

Year Record AP USA Today
2015 12–2–0 24 26* received votes

From 1978 until 2007, WKU competed in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, and as such was eligible for the post-season FCS coaches poll and the Sports Network poll, started in 1993. They have appeared in the final rankings 12 seasons.

Year Record Coaches Sports Network
1978 8–2–0 5
1980 9–1–0 5
1987 7–4–0 11
1988 9–4–0 16
1993 8–3–0 NR 19
1997 10–2 7 5
1998 7–4 22 17
2000 11–2 7 5
2001 8–4 10 12
2002 12–3 1 1
2003 9–4 8 7
2004 9–3 11 11

Hilltoppers in the NFL[edit]

  • CB Jonathan Dowling – Oakland (2014), Miami Dolphins(2015), Buffalo Bills(2015-Present) Drafted 2014: 7th Rnd, 247th by OAK
  • RB Antonio Andrews – Tennessee (2014 – present)
  • TE Jack Doyle – Indianapolis (2013 – present)
  • RB Bobby Rainey- Baltimore (2012–2013), Cleveland (2013), Tampa Bay (2013-2015), New York Giants (2016-present)
  • TE Tyler Higbee- L.A. Rams (2016-Present) Drafted 2016: Round 4, Pick 110
  • OT George Fant- Seattle Seahawks (2016-Present)
Free agent or practice squad
  • QB Brandon Doughty Drafted 2016: Round 7, Pick 223 by MIA
  • WR Jared Dangerfield- Saints(2016)
  • TE Mitchell Henry- Green Bay Packers(2015), Denver Broncos(2015), Green Bay Packers(2015)
  • DE Quanterus Smith – Denver (2013 – 2014), Jets(2015), Jaguars(2015), Lions(2016) Drafted 2013: 5th Rnd, 146th by DEN
  • LB Andrew Jackson – Indianapolis (2014) Drafted 2014: 6th Rnd, 203rd by IND
  • LB Xavius Boyd – Baltimore (Signed 2014), Buffalo (Signed 2014), free agent
  • FB Kadeem Jones – St. Louis (Signed 2014), free agent
  • DB Derrius Brooks – Cincinnati (Signed 2012), Saints (Signed 2014), Tampa Bay (2014–Present), practice squad, IR
  • E Pete Marcus – Washington (1950)
  • LB Dale Lindsey – Cleveland (1965–1972), New Orleans (1973) Drafted 1965: 7th Rnd, 97th by CLE
  • RB Clarence "Jazz" Jackson, Jr. – New York (Jets) (1974–1976) Drafted 1974: 16th Rnd, 395th by NYJ
  • DB Virgil Livers – Chicago (1975–1979) Drafted 1975: 4th Rnd, 83rd by CHI
  • WR Darryl Drake – Washington (1979), Cincinnati (1983)
  • C/G David Carter – Houston (1977–1983), New Orleans (1984–1985) Drafted 1977: 6th Rnd, 165th by HOU
  • DB David Mullen – New York (Jets) (1983–1986) Drafted 1983: 8th Rnd, 217th by NYJ
  • DB Carl Brazley – San Diego (1987) (CFL 1980–1982)
  • LB Paul Gray – Atlanta (1987), Drafted 1984: 10th Rnd, 264th by NO
  • G Pete Walters – Philadelphia (1987)
  • WR Keith Paskett – Green Bay (1987)
  • DE Tim Mooney – Philadelphia (1987)
  • DB Mark Johnson – Cincinnati (1987)
  • RB Rod Smart AKA "He Hate Me" – Philadelphia (2001), Carolina (2002–2005)
  • CB Joseph Jefferson – Indianapolis (2002–2005) Drafted 2002: 3rd Rnd, 74th by IND
  • DB Mel Mitchell – New Orleans (2002–2005), New England (2006–2007) Drafted 2002: 5th Rnd, 150th by NO
  • FB Jeremi Johnson – Cincinnati (2003–2009) Drafted 2003: 4th Rnd, 118th by CIN
  • LB Sherrod Coates – Cleveland (2003–2004)
  • G Anthony Oakley – Chicago (2005–2007)
  • WR Bobby Sippio – Kansas City (2007)
  • WR Curtis Hamilton – Chicago (2008), New Orleans (2009)
  • K Shane Andrus – Indianapolis (2009), Tampa (2009), San Francisco (2009–2010)

A total of 30 Hilltoppers have been drafted in the NFL.

Notable Hilltopper players[edit]

Notable Hilltopper coaches[edit]

Head coaches
  • L.T. Smith (1920–1921, Head Coach) – Namesake of L.T. Smith Stadium
  • E.A. Diddle (1922–1928, Head Coach) – Former WKU Hilltoppers basketball Head Coach
  • Nick Denes (1957–1967, Head Coach) – Namesake of Nick Denes Field
  • Jimmy Feix (1968–1983, Head Coach; 1957–1967, Assistant Coach; 1986–1991, Athletic Director) – Winningest coach in WKU history; 1973, 1978, and 1980 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year; 1973 and 1975 NCAA Division II National Runners-up
  • Jack Harbaugh (1989–2002, Head Coach) – Former Head Coach – Western Michigan, 2000 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year, 2002 AFCA Coach of the Year (FCS), 2002 FCS National Champion
  • Bobby Petrino (2013) – Former coach at University of Louisville, University of Arkansas, and the NFL's Atlanta Falcons spent 13 months as head coach at WKU before returning to Louisville in January 2014.

Retired jerseys[edit]

Individual award winners[edit]

Justin Haddix – 2003
Jack Harbaugh2002
Nick Denes1963
Jimmy Feix – 1973, 1978, 1980
Jack Harbaugh2000
Bobby Rainey – 2010, 2011
Antonio Andrews – 2013
Quanterus Smith – 2012
Xavius Boyd – 2013
Antonio Andrews – 2013
Brandon Doughty – 2014
Brandon Doughty - 2015


WKU has fielded 64 All-Americans, with the first being named in 1952 and the last being named in 2005.

5 have been designated by the NCAA as "Consensus All-Americans" (selected by the AP, the Walter Camp Foundation and the AFCA). They are:

WKU's total of 5 Consensus All-Americans outpaces BCS programs Duke, Wake Forest, and Iowa State.


WKU has several historic rivalries that stem from its time in the Ohio Valley Conference. Since WKU's move to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2008, two of the three rivalry games are no longer played on an annual basis.

  • Battle of the Bluegrass is the name of WKU's rivalry with the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. As WKU's oldest rivalry, the two programs have met 85 times in football since 1914.[22]
  • Battle for the Red Belt is the name of WKU's rivalry with the nearby Murray State Racers. The two programs have met 67 times since the rivalry began in 1931. The Red Belt trophy was introduced to the rivalry series in 1978 when Murray's athletic trainer failed to pack a belt for the Racers' road trip and was loaned one by legendary WKU athletic trainer Bill "Doc E" Edwards.[23]
  • 100 Miles of Hate is the name of the long-standing rivalry with the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.[24] The two programs played together for several decades in the Ohio Valley Conference, and they both moved around the same time to the Sun Belt Conference and then to Conference USA.[25][26]

Future non-conference opponents[edit]

Announced schedules as of April 30, 2015

2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
at Miami (OH) at Illinois at Ball State at Army at Indiana Army (site TBA) at Hawaii vs South Florida at South Florida
vs Vanderbilt vs Eastern Kentucky at Indiana vs Indiana
at Alabama vs Ball State
vs Houston Baptist at Vanderbilt



  1. ^ WKU Communication & Branding Manual (PDF). Retrieved 2016-03-25. 
  2. ^ [1] Archived October 17, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ "Harbaugh sons used unconventional means to help father build college football powerhouse". Yahoo Sports. 23 January 2013. 
  4. ^ "Western Kentucky hires Stanford assistant Willie Taggart as coach - USATODAY.com". usatoday.com. 
  5. ^ "Welcome Home Willie Taggart". GoUSFBulls.com. 
  6. ^ "Little Caesars Bowl: Western Kentucky gamble fails; Central Michigan wins". Sporting News. 
  7. ^ "Bobby Petrino hired as new Western Kentucky head coach". CBSSports.com. 
  8. ^ "Bobby Petrino is new WKU football coach". wdrb.com. 10 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "Kentucky Wildcats vs Western Kentucky Hilltoppers – Recap". ESPN.com. 
  10. ^ "Western Kentucky to Join Conference USA in 2014". conferenceusa.com. 
  11. ^ "Louisville Cardinals hire Bobby Petrino as football coach". ESPN.com. 
  12. ^ "Jeff Brohm hired as coach of Western Kentucky Hilltoppers". ESPN.com. 
  13. ^ "Western Kentucky vs Marshall". ESPN.com. 
  14. ^ "Central Michigan vs Western Kentucky". ESPN.com. 
  15. ^ "After filling up stat sheet last year, Brandon Doughty focusing on championship". Kentucky.com. 
  16. ^ UniformCritics.com, Photos and History of Western Kentucky Football Uniforms. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  17. ^ UniformCritics.com, Photos of 2011–2012 Red Hilltoppers Football Uniform. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  18. ^ UniformCritics.com, Photos of 2012 Gray WKU Football Uniform. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  19. ^ UniformCritics.com, Photos of 2013 Western Kentucky Black Alternate Uniform. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  20. ^ UniformCritics.com, Photos of 2013 Western Kentucky White Football Uniform. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  21. ^ UniformCritics.com, Photos of 2013 Western Kentucky Red Football Uniform. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  22. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20080917131133/http://www.wkusports.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=5400&ATCLID=1573894. Archived from the original on September 17, 2008. Retrieved April 4, 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ [2] Archived March 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ Austin Lewis (February 9, 2011). "Inside the Rivalry : 100 Miles of Hate". rivals.com. Retrieved 2014-06-07. 
  25. ^ Brad Stephens (4 October 2011). "WKU, MTSU rivalry week under way". College Heights Herald. 
  26. ^ [3][dead link]
  27. ^ "Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Football Schedules and Future Schedules". fbschedules.com. Retrieved 2014-08-06.