Boca Raton Bowl score: It's time to respect Western Kentucky as a NY6 contender

Western Kentucky might not be a household name, but the Hilltoppers are slowly working their way toward it.

And while the rest of Conference USA continues to retool and rebuild, WKU remains a stabilizing force at the top of the conference.

Since joining the league in 2014, the Hilltoppers have won the C-USA championship twice and been to three consecutive bowl games -- winning all three, including Tuesday's dominant 51-31 victory against Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl.

No matter how the other teams in the conference have retooled, no matter which pieces are rotating (Brandon Doughty and Mike White at quarterback), no matter who the coach is (Willie Taggart, Bobby Petrino, Jeff Brohm and next year Mike Sanford), the one constant is Western Kentucky just wins.

The Hilltoppers split a pair close games against Vanderbilt in the past two years. And while they struggled with Alabama this year in a 28-point loss, so did everybody else.

The Toppers don't just win, they win while having fun.

Against Memphis, the Hilltoppers ran a throwback screen to an offensive lineman for a touchdown. Just before the end of the first half, they faked a kneel down near their end zone and ran 53 yards to get into scoring range.

This is the golden era of Western Kentucky football, and it's time to start thinking about them as a New Year's Six team alongside the powers in the American Athletic Conference.

This program is no flash in the pan. While Western Michigan pulled off an undefeated season this year, it's not a stretch to think the Hilltoppers could do the same in 2017.

With nonconference games against Eastern Kentucky, Illinois, Ball State and Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky may have a zero in the loss column come December ahead of the Conference USA title game.

Florida Atlantic and FIU just hired new coaches in an effort to to climb their way up to the top of the conference. They may have made two splashy hires in Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis, respectively, but Western Kentucky has done it with lesser known names -- at least at the time of their hire.

WKU hired Willie Taggart back to the school after three years on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford.

He spent seven years at the school before that and played quarterback for the Hilltoppers in the 1990s.

Then, when Taggart left for South Florida, the Hilltoppers once again looked within and promoted Jeff Brohm.

Western Kentucky isn't able to lure the big-name coaching candidate away from a top programs, but bringing in Mike Sanford from Notre Dame will help keep intact one of the most potent offenses in college football.

If one thing is certain about WKU's future in C-USA, it's that it should be on top of the hill for a long time to come.

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