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Better Know a Conference-USA Opponent: the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

If Vandy doesn’t win this one, the back end of the season’s gonna be a Counting Crows song.

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NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Western Kentucky Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The School: Western Kentucky University

Record: 5-3 (3-2 in Conference-USA). The five teams Western Kentucky has beaten have a combined three wins against FBS competition: UAB (twice!) and old foe UMass.

I’m sorry, that should read “and team that nearly beat Tennessee in 2017, UMass.”

Ranking: Unranked in the AP Top 25 and the Coaches' Polls. Jeff Sagarin has WKU rated 112th in his rankings, since that’s the kind of respect you get when you lose to Lovie Smith by two touchdowns. (Vandy is 82nd, one spot ahead of a 1-8 North Carolina team, because this is what we deserve).

Mascot: Their nickname is the Hilltoppers, which is interesting since Big Red doesn’t look like he has the cardio to make it up a flight of stairs, let alone a steeply graded slope.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Western Kentucky Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Bald head? Big gut? Tiny legs? Someone tell Mike Judge Western Kentucky ripped off his Bill Dauterive character from King of the Hill.

Location: Bowling Green, Kentucky. Current home of former Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Stansbury. Future home of an FBI wire tap.

Coach: Mike Sanford Jr., the offensive architect behind Notre Dame’s 4-8 season in 2016. I’d love to talk more shit about him, but the man was smart enough to turn down Derek Mason’s offer to guide the set-ablaze ghost ship that was the Vandy offense in 2014, so he’s obviously wise.

Conference: Conference-USA. “Best damn conference in the world, even if that cop-hater Kaepernick don’t appreciate it,” your alcoholic cousin mutters before taking a swig from a room temperature beer. The can has since been filled halfway with the discarded dip he’d chewed just moments before, but he don’t mind.

No, he don’t mind.

All-time vs. Vanderbilt: 1-4. I gotta tell you, after four straight weeks of running down SEC opponents who were a combined 278-13 against Vandy, this feels nice to type.

In the Last 10 Years vs. Vanderbilt: 1-1. Western Kentucky allowed nearly 30 points per game in 2015. Vandy managed 12. Man, I wanted so badly for Johnny McCrary to have been awesome. Miss you, JM.

The Last Time We Saw These Guys: One year after a failed two-point conversion sunk Vandy at home, Western Kentucky returned the favor. Jeff Brohm didn’t want to wait for a second overtime, so he went for two down 31-30 in the extra period. Despite Matt Bevin’s protests, it didn’t go well.

Is Vandy Favored?: Yep. By 11 dang points.

Also, protip; typing in “Oddssark” instead of “Oddsshark” brings up a treasure trove of Asian pornography. Please don’t do that while at work. Or do, I’m not your boss.

Most Potent Offensive Threat: South Carolina ran for nearly six yards per carry last week, so I’m gonna go ahead and hold steady with my prediction “anything with two moderately usable legs.”

Most Potent Defensive Threat: Kyle Shurmur has been awesome this season, keeping the Vanderbilt offense afloat despite a hit-or-miss offensive line and an inefficient season from All-SEC tailback Ralph Webb. Normally here’s where I’d put a defensive lineman or linebacker who could ruin his day, but no one on the Hilltoppers’ roster has more than 1.5 sacks this fall. No team in the country has a pass rush worse than Western Kentucky’s. If Shurmur’s jersey has even a single grass stain on it Saturday, someone’s getting chewed out.

Matchup to Watch: See above. I want a pissed-off Shurmur to throw for six touchdowns in between setting up a moderately-priced prime rib buffet in the backfield. He’ll call a play, carve up a few thick slices with a little horseradish on the side, and then throw a rocket through some unlucky cornerback’s chest and into Jared Pinkney’s hands.

Interesting Fact: The first Zaxby’s on the way out of Nashville heading north used to be (and maybe still is) in Bowling Green. That means I’ve been there approximately 100 times, pounding nuclear boneless wings and staring into the dead eyes of Big Red thanks to their locally-flared decorations. I will never disparage the amazing food of Wisconsin, but good lord do I miss Zaxby’s and the approximately 15 minutes of post-meal normalcy it provided before turning my stomach into a Civil War battlefield.

Bonus Fact!: I apologize for the imagery in that last fact.

If Western Kentucky wins, we: shut it down. Bad news guys. We’re probably not going to Shreveport.