1.) How big a step up for WKU is the move to Conference USA?
By one measurement, the on-field competition in C-USA may not actually be tougher than what Western faced last year in the Sun Belt Conference. At the end of last season, the average RPI rating (yes, they have that for football, too) of WKU's eight SBC foes was 72.9. The average RPI for the eight C-USA teams Western plays in 2014 was 102.9. When Western looks around in its first year in C-USA, it ought to feel right at home. Four other current C-USA schools — Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee State and North Texas — were members of the Sun Belt with WKU as recently as 2012.
2.) How will Jeff Brohm handle his first college head coaching job?
Succeeding Bobby Petrino did not work out well for Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville or John L. Smith at Arkansas. Brohm, the former Trinity High School and Louisville Cardinals quarterback, has the advantage of knowing the WKU personnel. He was Petrino's assistant head coach and offensive coordinator last year as Western went 8-4.
3.) Can Western replace Antonio Andrews?
It is likely no player in the country meant more to an offense than the graduated star running back Andrews did to WKU. The former Fort Campbell High School quarterback led the nation in total yards for each of the past two seasons (compiling a whopping 5,497 yards). Still, the Hilltoppers appear to have capable backs ready to step in. Junior Leon Allen will be the featured back. The 6-foot, 230-pound junior from Bradenton, Fla., ran for 90 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries last season in WKU's 35-26 win over Kentucky. Former Central High School star Anthony "Ace" Wales will try to give Western a "change-of-pace" back to complement Allen.
4.) Can WKU replace the vast star power it lost off its defense?
It's not just that Western loses seven starters off its 2013 defense. The Hilltoppers lost difference makers. Departed linebacker Xavius Boyd was Sun Belt Conference Defense Player of the Year in 2013. Departed middle linebacker Andrew Jackson (sixth round, Indianapolis Colts) and safety Jonathan Dowling (seventh round, Oakland Raiders) heard their names called in the NFL Draft. Suffice to say, defensive coordinator Nick Holt faces a mighty challenge in 2014.
5.) Can Western get strong play immediately from junior-college transfers?
It takes many successful jucos at least a year before they really get acclimated to FBS football. For WKU to succeed in 2014, it needs several players to defy that. Junior-college transfers such as defensive tackle Ge'Monee Brown and linebackers Nick Holt (the coordinator's son) and Dejon Brown are being counted on to (try to) help replace the immense defensive production WKU lost. Offensively, juco wide-out Jared Dangerfield could start right away.