Western Kentucky's Taggart outcoaches Saban -- during game week
Western Kentucky was one of two bowl-eligible teams last season not to be invited to a bowl.
He didn't really say it, did he? Willie Taggart?
Not only did he say it, he believes it.
"We're trying to create a national identity here," Taggart told CBSSports.com this week. "I'm one of those guys, in order for us to go where we want to go, we have to win this game."
Win? This game? Taggart has to understand that if his team comes out of Saturday's contest at Bryant-Denny without any broken limbs it should be considered a victory. Alabama scored more touchdowns last week against Michigan (five) than the number of years Western Kentucky has in FBS (four).
Still, Taggart says this is a must-win.
"I believe in destiny," he said.
That's because he's already lived it. I called Taggart after his "baloney" comment not only because it was amusing, it carried significant weight -- and maybe some foreshadowing. You see, Taggart has watched the baloney being sliced.
Five years ago, he was Jim Harbaugh's running backs coach, intimately involved in Stanford's 24-23 upset over USC. In some way, it was responsible for him getting his current job. That result was the biggest upset of all time in terms of point spread. No. 2 USC was favored by 41 points.
'Bama is favored by 40. You have been warned, even by Nick Saban.
Before the ball is kicked, Taggart already has won the press conference. You probably wouldn't see Saban blowing up this week unless the Hilltoppers' coach had called Alabama, "the next expansion team in the NFL."
"They’ll be that 33rd team in the NFL," Taggart said. "They are loaded. Sometimes you look at some of those guys and say, 'That's not fair.' "
Saban blamed the local media. He should have blamed a rising 45-year-old star in Bowling Green, Ky., for outcoaching him -- during game week.
Without that Stanford result, Taggart wouldn't be quoted as much this week. Without it, there may have been a shrink or two interested in a free consultation. But as an accomplished assistant (Stanford and Western Kentucky) and former Hilltoppers quarterback (1995-98) with his jersey retired, he isn't taking us for a ride. He hopes to take his team for a ride to a bowl game.
Western Kentucky (7-5) was one of two bowl-eligible teams not to play in the postseason last year. A lot of that has to do with Western Kentucky being Western Kentucky. But if the Hilltoppers show well the next two weekends -- they go to Kentucky on Sept. 15 -- compete in the Sun Belt, they won't be unknown.
Taggart is making sure of it.
"We got snubbed from being in a bowl game but we didn’t make any excuses," the coach said. "That's what we have to do, become a dominant team in Sun Belt. If we go play well, we can make these bowl executives think twice."
AD Todd Stewart said: "From a notoriety standpoint, we'll have more eyeballs on us than we will the rest of the year. Exposure of that magnitude is difficult to come by."
Playing up is a hazardous habit in the Sun Belt. Schools have to do it to balance the budget. The trip to Tuscaloosa (4½ hours by bus) will earn the Hilltoppers $1 million. That's a sizable amount for any program but critical to one with a $5.5 million budget. This is Western Kentucky's second consecutive season playing a top-ranked SEC school on the road. It trailed LSU only 14-7 at the half before losing 42-9.
Someday soon, Taggart is going to have a BCS job. In three seasons he already has had three different players named to various levels of All-American teams. You may have heard of Bobby Rainey, now in the NFL, who finished third nationally in rushing in 2010.
"We've always preached that we're not going out to play to our competition level," Taggart said. "We're not going out to compete up or compete down. Alabama happens to be defending national champs. Once you start playing up or down, you end up being the same average team."
Not these guys. Until further notice, they are a team of destiny.
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