Western Kentucky fans rejoiced on Dec. 13.
That was the day Austin Reed withdrew his name from the transfer portal and decided to remain a Hilltopper. Reed had options to choose from and a lot of NIL money being tossed his way, but ultimately made the decision he wanted to be the best quarterback in C-USA and arguably the best QB in the Group of Five.
And now, Reed will again be leading what was the top offense in the conference last season.
The Hilltoppers led the league averaging 497 total YPG and finished second behind UTSA putting up 36.4 PPG. They mainly leaned on Reed’s arm and his 4,476 passing yards – which led all of the FBS. His 339 YPG paced the league and was second in the country, while his 40 passing touchdowns ranked third in the nation behind only Caleb Williams and CJ Stroud. Reed also rushed for 331 yards and eight scores.
Obviously bringing the signal-caller back will make WKU a force to be reckoned with once again, but will also make the program a favorite to make a run at the C-USA title.
There are other key contributors from last season that will be back as well.
One of those guys is running back Davion Ervin-Poindexter. The redshirt junior averaged just 37.5 yards per game last season and rushed for only three touchdowns. He did, however, average 4.5 yards per carry, showing he can be productive for this air raid offense and efficient when the opportunities call. L.T. Sanders and Markese Stepp are also returning and should be the second and third options for WKU. Sanders rushed for 292 yards last season and Stepp finished with 166 yards after appearing in just four games late in the season because of an injury.
WKU will also be returning two starters and big-time weapons on the outside in Malachi Corley and Michael Mathison. Corley led C-USA with 92.4 YPG and his 11 touchdowns ranked second. The junior’s 101 receptions were by far the most in the league.
I’m sure Reed is glad to still have Corley around to make the quarterback’s job a little bit easier:
Mathison ranked fourth for the Tops after finishing his junior campaign with 52 receptions for 615 yards. He also hauled in three touchdowns on the season.
Redshirt sophomore Dalvin Smith is another solid guy that showed some promise in 2022. Smith started in three games and pulled in 35 catches for 443 yards and four scores on the year. He capped the season with a six-catch, 145-yard performance in the New Orleans Bowl while adding a touchdown.
Someone Reed will miss this fall is tight end Joshua Simon, who was second on the roster with seven touchdowns last season. Simon transferred to South Carolina. With his departure, there currently isn’t much production coming back at the tight end position. Joey Beljan also hauled in four TDs from the position but has since moved on. River Helms looks to be the top guy, but he mainly was a special teams player last year.
Along the offensive line, Vincent Murphy and Quantavious Leslie are back protecting Reed. Both guys started all 14 games last season and helped give up just 14 sacks, which ranked second in C-USA and 10th in the country.
The tools seem to be there for the WKU offense to do what it did last year. I don’t think there’s any question that it won’t be the top offense in the league and one of the best in the G5.