BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - It’s usually a decision reserved for college football’s best teams - resting key players in nonconference matchups.
But Western Kentucky is in a unique position heading into Saturday’s game against No. 1 LSU. The Hilltoppers are in the thick of this year’s Sun Belt Conference title race and need to keep their best players healthy down the stretch.
Taggart joked that LSU is a “minor league NFL team,” but the second-year head coach isn’t treating Saturday’s game against the Tigers like an NFL exhibition.
WKU (5-4, 5-1) sits behind Arkansas State (7-2, 5-0) and Louisiana-Lafayette (8-2, 6-1) with games against North Texas and Troy yet to be played.
Taggart said he’s not talking to the people who suggest he should rest his best players to prevent injury.
“If you buy into that, you don’t stand a chance. You’ve already lost,” Taggart said. “That’s what happens in a lot of these ballgames. Teams lose before they even step on the football field.”
Back in 2007, while Taggart was running backs coach at Stanford, the 41-point underdog Cardinal upset Southern California in the Coliseum. WKU heads to Baton Rouge with LSU a 40-point favorite.
“That USC team had about seven first-rounders, and I think LSU probably has about the same or more,” Taggart said. “But you saw a Cardinal team come in there that believed they could play with them and didn’t go in there thinking any other way.”
The Hilltoppers have experienced tough environments before having played at Tennessee in 2009 and Nebraska last year. They’re no strangers to playing highly ranked foes either after starting the first game of a two-year transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2007 at then-No. 3 Florida.
But WKU has never beaten a Southeastern Conference team, and this marks the program’s first game against the FBS’ No. 1 team.
“When it comes down to it, I’m 21 years old, and they’re 21 years old,” said tight end Jack Doyle. “They grew up just like I did. Why not just go play football with them?”
WKU’s game is one of two in the FBS this week that features a pair of teams on at least five-game winning streaks, the other being Oregon at Stanford.
The game will be broadcast on ESPNU - the first nationally televised game since October, when WKU started its winning streak at Middle Tennessee State.
It’s also another chance for running back Bobby Rainey, now a 4,000-yard career rusher, to earn some exposure. Rainey passed former quarterback Taggart on WKU’s all-time list last weekend and sits 351 yards away from becoming the program’s top rusher.
Taggart said, “Bobby Rainey’s not afraid of LSU,” but that winning would take more than a good effort from just the senior back.
“Now, if Bobby can go out there and do it by himself, I’ll be, ?Go do it, Bobby. I’m all for you,’” Taggart said. “But Bobby doesn’t do it all by himself, so it’s important that everybody do their part to help Bobby have success and help this football team have success.”