Four Hilltoppers — senior tight end Jack Doyle, senior defensive lineman Quanterus Smith, junior linebacker Andrew Jackson and sophomore return specialist John Evans — were among the 26 players selected to the preseason all-Sun Belt team as voted on by the league’s 10 head coaches and selected members of the media.
WKU, which finished 7-1 and in second place in last year’s conference race, was picked to finish fourth behind Florida International (92 points, 5 first-place votes), Arkansas State (85 points, 2 first place votes) and Louisiana-Lafayette (81 points, 2 first place votes).
The Hilltoppers received 60 points and one first-place vote.
Doyle — who was a second-team all-conference selection at the end of the 2011 season — is on the preseason watch list for the John Mackey Award for the second straight season. The Indianapolis, Ind., senior led the Hilltoppers in receiving last season, hauling in 52 catches for 614 yards. He eclipsed 100 receiving yards three times, posting a career-best 106 receiving yards on seven grabs against Louisiana-Lafayette. His other two 100-yard games also came in SBC contests, finishing with 100 yards against Middle Tennessee and 101 in the season finale against Troy. For the season, Doyle averaged 11.8 yards per reception and 51.2 yards per game. His 52 catches also rank tied for fifth on WKU’s single season list.
Smith was also a second-team all-league pick last season after registering 38 total tackles during his junior campaign. He finished the year tied for eighth in the Sun Belt with 11 tackles for loss (0.92 per game), and was second in the league with a team-best 7.5 sacks. The Loganville, Ga., product played in all 12 games at defensive end, finishing with multiple tackles in 11 games. His efforts also helped the Hilltoppers average 6.58 tackles for loss (fourth in the SBC) and 2.33 sacks per game (third in the SBC) in 2011.
Jackson earned first-team all-Sun Belt honors in 2011 — his first season as a starter on the Hill — after ranking third in the league and 39th nationally averaging 9.1 tackles per game. He finished the year with 109 tackles, spending most of the season as the league leader in stops before an injury limited his snaps in the final two games. In addition to his total tackles, Jackson posted a league-best 17 tackles for loss (1.42 per game) — an average that ranked tied for 14th nationally. He was also credited with 3.5 sacks, one interception, and both a forced and recovered fumble. The Lakeland, Fla., native registered double-digit tackles five times, including a season-high 13 in back-to-back games against Indiana State and Arkansas State. He also posted at least one tackle of loss in 11 games and was WKU’s leading tackler in eight of 12 games. Last week, Jackson was named to the preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, and has also been named a preseason candidate for the Butkus Award.
Evans earned Freshman All-America honors in 2011 after ranking second nationally in kickoff returns. A native of Sarasota, Fla., Evans averaged 32.2 yards per return, and also ranked fifth in the league and 45th nationally averaging 5.59 yards per punt return. He averaged a season-best 44.7 yards on three returns against Middle Tennessee, including a 90-yard touchdown return in WKU’s double-overtime victory. He also had a 79-yard return to se up a WKU score in the final minute of regulation a ULM — a game the Hilltoppers won in overtime. He finished the year with four returns over 40 yards.
The Hilltoppers will open fall training camp for the 2012 season on Aug. 6, and open the season with a home contest against Austin Peay on Sept. 1. In its third season under the direction of head coach Willie Taggart, WKU is looking to continue its upward trend after a 7-5 season in 2011. It also posted a 7-1 Sun Belt record, a five-win turnaround from 2010. That win differential in league play represented the biggest one-season turnaround in Sun Belt history, and only two teams in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision — Houston and Arkansas State — experienced bigger turnarounds in terms of overall wins from 2010 to 2011.