Who to pick?
It should be easier this week since West Virginia University has a bye. That means the sole game to predict is Marshall University’s homecoming contest against Western Kentucky at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
But it isn’t easier.
On the contrary, it’s a conundrum.
It’s very difficult to wrap a neutral mind around this game. Why? Several reasons.
n No. 1: Western Kentucky first-year head coach Tyson Helton has a very bright and creative offensive mind. Remember Marshall’s 67-66 overtime loss to Western Kentucky in 2014 that ended the Herd’s hopes for an undefeated season? The Hilltoppers’ offensive coordinator and quarterback coach was none other than Helton.
The young offensive guru also helped coach Western Kentucky to a 49-28 win over Marshall in 2015.
Then, Helton left to become passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Southern Cal (2016-17) and, then, took the offensive coordinator and quarterback coaching job at Tennessee (2018).
Helton never has lost to MU while coaching at WKU.
n No. 2: The weather is going to be windy and rainy. There is a 70 percent chance of rain Saturday with gusting winds up to 20 mph.
The bad weather appears to be such a certainty that Marshall officials decided to move the new baseball field’s groundbreaking ceremonies at 10:30 p.m. Saturday from the site of the new field to the indoor practice facility.
The inclement weather easily could pose problems for the passing games and a wet ball could produce turnovers.
n No. 3: Western Kentucky’s defense is very good. Maybe very, very good, in fact. Of course, it got a head start when Helton made the smart move of retaining Clayton White on his coaching staff as defensive coordinator.
That meant the Hilltoppers’ defense has great continuity since White also held that position in 2018. So, WKU has been playing this defensive scheme for consecutive years and has gotten very adept at it.
This adept. WKU is tied for No. 13 in the nation in passing defense (177.0 yards). It is No. 15 in total defense (287.3 yards). The Toppers are ranked No. 17 in scoring defense (17.9 points). And WKU is No. 22 in rushing defense (110.3 yards).
n No. 4: The loss of safety Brandon Drayton is a big blow to MU’s defense, particularly against the run. Drayton was arrested on charges of felony strangulation and domestic assault on Wednesday and is suspended from all team activities.
Drayton was the fourth-leading tackler on MU’s defense with 46 stops. The 6-foot-3, 197-pound Drayton will be replaced by 5-10, 169-pound true freshman Micah Abraham, who played 25 or so snaps against Florida Atlantic last week.
n No. 5: Western Kentucky has a veteran, battle-tested quarterback in graduate transfer Ty Storey. The 6-2, 225-pound Storey actually was the starting quarterback for Arkansas in 2018.
Storey passed for 1,584 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Razorbacks last season, completing 143 of 250 passes (57.2 percent).
He didn’t begin the 2019 season as WKU’s starting quarterback, however. Steven Duncan quarterbacked the first three games before suffering a season-ending injury.
Since then, Storey has led Western Kentucky to four consecutive wins over UAB, Old Dominion, Army and Charlotte. He has completed 78 of 112 passes (.696) for 805 yards with five touchdowns and only one interception.
So, obviously, Western Kentucky has a lot going it. But does it have enough? Maybe not.
MU should win, 24-20.
n Season record: 11-3.