Whenever whoever inked this game between Tennessee and Western Kentucky, I'm quite sure they didn't imagine it would have so many unique storylines that would lead to so much momentum on the line. The conversation about whether Austin Peay was the worst team to ever play in Neyland Stadium includes the last Hilltopper team we saw, four years ago on the business end of a 63-7 beatdown in Lane Kiffin's debut. That game still stands as the school record for yardage differential to the tune of 657-83 Vols.
Four seasons, four head coaches, and four years of bowl eligibility later it's a very different game. Tennessee has gone from Lane Kiffin through Derek Dooley to Butch Jones, a program in spiral that hasn't made a bowl game since consecutive Chick-Fil-A and Music City matchups in the first years of the last two guys. Western Kentucky moved from Dave Elson to Willie Taggart, and under his watch the program went from 0-12 in that 2009 season to 2-10, 7-5 and hung out to dry by the bowls, and 7-6 last year with a trip to Little Caesar's. So while the Vols were busy firing Derek Dooley, the Hilltoppers lost Taggart to upward mobility at South Florida (...sort of, considering the Bulls just suffered the worst FCS-on-FBS violence in the history of classification).
Enter Bobby Petrino, who got zero traction for the Tennessee job and most of the other major openings in college football last offseason, which is how a guy with a BCS bowl appearance three years ago ends up in the Sun Belt, non-Chizik division. The Hilltoppers were certainly on their way up under Taggart, as the won/loss record proves. But against BCS competition thus far?
- 2009: Tennessee 63, Western Kentucky 7
- 2009: South Florida 35, Western Kentucky 13
- 2010: Nebraska 49, Western Kentucky 10
- 2010: Kentucky 63, Western Kentucky 28
- 2010: Indiana 38, Western Kentucky 21
- 2010: South Florida 24, Western Kentucky 12
- 2011: Kentucky 14, Western Kentucky 3
- 2011: LSU 42, Western Kentucky 9
- 2012: Alabama 35, Western Kentucky 0
- 2012: Western Kentucky 32, Kentucky 31 (OT)