Small school, schmall school — WKU’s Brandon Doughty lets numbers do his talking


You have questions. That’s understandable. No, no. It’s cool. Really. Brandon Doughty is used to it by now, in spite of all the defenses he’s laid to waste, in spite of the records falling at his feet like so many snowflakes.

“(Baltimore Ravens quarterback) Joe Flacco is a small-school guy,” Western Kentucky’s sixth-year senior quarterback said. “I guess, to me, (Dallas Cowboys signal-caller) Tony Romo is a small-school guy. There are a lot of quarterbacks that you don’t think about that were small-school guys, that when they got their chances, they seized their moment.”

Carpe diem, meet Carpe Doughty: The Hilltoppers signal-caller heads into Saturday’s Conference USA championship against Southern Mississippi as only the third Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback to rack up at least 4,000 yards and 40 touchdown passes in back-to-back campaigns. The resume reads like rarified air: Doughty leads the FBS in completion percentage (72.0), passing scores (42), and yards per attempt (9.4), having posted more career passing yards (11,984) than Drew Brees (11,792), Peyton Manning (11,201) and Doug Flutie (10,759) and more career passing touchdowns (105) than Brees (90), Manning (89) and Dan Marino (79).

Doughty-POYWhile Heisman voters sniff about the system or the competition or his sixth-year redshirt status, Doughty is happy to let the numbers — and the arm, but mostly the numbers — handle the rebuttals. The 6-foot-3 senior ranks 27th in FBS history in terms of career yardage and 18th in career touchdown throws. Plus there’s this: Since 2000, 19 quarterbacks have attempted at least 400 passes in a season while producing a passer rating of 167.1 or better; Doughty is the only player to pull it off twice (167.1 last fall; 180.1 in 2015).

And as to the whole “competition” thing, yes, over the past two seasons, the Florida native has a 1-2 mark against Power 5 programs (including a win at Vanderbilt on Sept. 3). But in those three contests, he also posted six touchdown tosses and three picks while averaging 330 passing yards.

“I’m really proud of the growth of this program,” said Doughty, who on Wednesday was selected as one of 12 finalists for the Manning Award, presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate quarterback. “When I first got here, we were on an (2-22 record) drought in (2009-10). We were one of the worst programs, and now we’re a team that when we’re about to play LSU at LSU, everyone’s expecting us to win the game. You’re like, ‘Holy cow, who would’ve thought that, that a team from WKU could go to LSU and go there and win?’ The other thing I take pride in is being a role model for those kids; that’s the reason I play this sport.”

You have questions. He has a mission.

“There’s a reason why I came back,” Doughty said of the C-USA title game. “It’s pressure that I put on myself.

“Everything that we’ve worked at all year, everything that we’ve done, everything that we’ve done in the weight room and just working out at practice, it all comes down to one game. Everything that we’ve done before this game, it means nothing.”

The arm is real. So is the drive, the perspective and the humility: Last month, Doughty was named one of 10 finalists for the 2015 Senior CLASS award, awarded to a senior at an FBS program who has excelled in the community, the classroom, character and competition.

A graduate student by day, Doughty pores over film at night, taking notes, with fiancée Sydney Sisler often riding shotgun. Planning for their March 6 wedding? It can wait.

“She always keeps me in check,” Doughty chuckled. “We work together on things. It’s not just me; she helps me out. (When) I learned all of the playbook and I was just kind of sitting in my room until 2 o’clock in the morning, she sat there with me. She said, ‘Give me Play 26. Draw Play 26 up.’ And ‘Draw Play 38.’ It’s a team effort.”

Team Doughty has their collective eyes on making Brandon the next small-school guy raising NFL hell, encouraged by the recent success of Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, who threw for 50 touchdowns and 5,083 yards as a senior at Fresno State in 2013. Most draftniks peg Doughty as third- or fourth-round material; the similarly-sized Carr (6-3, 215) was tapped early in the second round by the Oakland Raiders in 2014. Doughty has already picked the brains of some of the best in the pro game, having worked as a counselor this past summer at the renowned Manning Passing Academy, bracing for the chess games yet to come.

“Everyone asks me: ‘Why do you always go so hard?’” Doughty said. “They ask, ‘Why do you play so hard?’ And I think the reason is that every time I’m (out there), there’s a little kid who hasn’t seen me play. I want to give him my best show, the best I can, every week.”

You have questions. He has a legacy.

Above: Brandon Doughty takes pride in helping WKU move from basement dweller to national consciousness. (Courtesy WKU Athletics)