Starting off the second season in its transition from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), Western Kentucky has been met with mixed emotions from fans, writers, and your average joe. Some have said that they feel the Hilltoppers are struggling and are not looking like a team that can compete at the FBS level. Well let's take a look at a couple teams that have made this jump in the past.
The Thundering Herd of Marshall University made the jump from then known 1AA to 1A in 1997. At this time a period of transition was not required by the NCAA. Marshall is widely considered as the model school for the transition because of the success they received. In its inaugural season the Herd went 10-3 including a bowl berth against Ole Miss in the Motor City bowl, falling to the Rebels 31-34. From '97-'04 Marshall won 5 MAC conference titles ('97, '98, '99, '00, '02) and were runners up in 2001. In 2005 Marshall made the move to Conference USA. Since making the move to 1A the Herd are 5-2 in bowl games and have finished the season ranked in the top 25 three times. A good and well respected team to model a transition to the nations highest football level after.
However, outside of the miracle that was Marshall football. What about another team that recently made the move. Florida International, a member of WKU's soon to be football conference the Sun Belt, made the transition starting in 2003 with full membership and bowl eligibility into the Sun Belt conference in 2005. During the two years of transition FIU went 2-10 and 3-7 respectively, with no wins against FBS teams. Also included was a 35-14 loss in 2004 to none other then the Hilltoppers. However, in FIU's first season as a member of the Sun Belt in 2005. The Golden Panthers recorded an overall mark of 5-6 while going 3-4 in conference play. I won't mention that they went 0-12 in 2006 or 1-11 in 2007 and are currently 0-3 this season. They have certainly struggled with the move.
I think WKU will fall somewhere in between these two schools. The Hilltoppers already went 7-5 during its first year of the transition including a win over a FBS team in arch-rival MTSU in Murfreesboro. Already accomplishing 3 feats that FIU couldn't during its transition. Not losing to a FCS team, ending the season with a winning record, and notching a victory over a FBS program. Now in the 2nd year of the move, the Hilltoppers solidified one of those accomplishments by once again not losing to a FCS program. While this seasons schedule is leaps and bounds more difficult then any other the WKU football program has had to go up against. This is also a team that has more overall talent then any other Topper team in the past. WKU put up a decent showing against the Hoosiers, but fell well short against the Crimson Tide of Alabama. 'Bama is a top 10 team folks. They pounded on Clemson and blew Arkansas away by as many points as WKU. Don't start losing your faith just yet. The season is far from over. If the NCAA tournament this past season has taught the WKU faithful anything. It is don't count out the Hilltoppers until the final horn has sounded.