Although the natural inclination of every coach and player at these media scrums is to stay conservative and avoid bulletin-board material, everyone admired that WKU was the team to beat this season. The back-to-back CUSA champs are embracing the role as banner-carriers for the league.
“Of course [we carry the banner]. That’s what we think, based on our accomplishments. We do. We embrace that part”, said senior linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe. “You can call it pressure, or a challenge. We are looking forward to it either way. We are hungry. We are ready to get this thing on the road.”
The 2017 season presents a unique challenge to the Hilltoppers, aside from the normal conference hurdles, as even C-USA officials are bullish about the league’s place in college football. Achieving the literally mythical P6 status will require the league’s better programs — ahem WKU — to win the out-of-conference battles against the Power 5 teams.
“We always take pride in our out-of-conference games — Big 10 games, SEC games, Vanderbilt — we definitely take pride in those games. We want to win those games, and show that C-USA, WKU can play. Represent our conference well,” continued Iyiegbuniwe.
Maintaining a winning program is difficult, especially with the target on your back. New head coach Mike Sanford acknowledged this pressure and the opportunity in his interview with Ron Thulin:
“One way to achieve that [continued success] is through work. Our mantra is We Work. That’s how we earn our stripes and we have a large target on our backs right now.”
No coach or player would admit to literally looking up to WKU without acknowledging the focus and attention on their own program most head coaches did like Seth Littrell and Sean Kugler and noted the success. “Obviously a well-coached team, good program, and had a lot of success. Hopefully we closed the gap a little.” said Littrell. Kugler added,“There are a few teams that are standards in this conference. Western Kentucky is obviously one of those.”
The media thinks so as well.
WKU and Louisiana Tech were voted overwhelming favorites to win their respective divisions and meet in the title game again. Quarterback Mike White was voted Pre-season Offensive Player of the Year.
Sanford is embracing the talent and focused on keeping the offensive balance from the previous year with his own offensive philosophy honed at his various stops.
Mike White thinks the new scheme is “fun”, and enjoys the new formations and looks.
Changes to a winning formula are not always good but these may be coming at the right time to keep things fresh.
Said Iyiegbuniwe, “The only that can stop us is ourselves. If we get too complacent and too big-headed and just coast that is what is going to stop us. If we stay hungry and keep to the game plan we can do what we’ve been doing. And more.”
Adam Martinez is the man behind Mean Green Nation, a blog — much like this one — about North Texas athletics. Be sure to check out his work, and to follow him at @meangreennation on the Twitter. I want to personally thank Adam for his work and willingness to contribute to us, as he was on the ground in Texas for CUSA Media Day.