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Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty has LSU's attention: He's 'every bit an SEC quarterback'

Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty has thrown 24 TDs this season to just four INTs and has the Hilltoppers thinking upset when they visit No. 5 LSU Joshua Lindsey/USA TODAY Sports

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- Western Kentucky's football players received iPads this fall so they could break down film and study plays whenever they wanted.

Quarterback Brandon Doughty was giddy about receiving his. But he's worried about the toll it has taken on his relationship with his fiancée, Sydney Sisler. He sometimes stays up until 3 a.m. staring at the iPad screen, reviewing more video.

"I jokingly say that we're going to get a divorce because I'm on that thing so much," Doughty said. "I have to catch myself sometimes and be like, 'So, what's going on with you, babe? Uh, I love that dress.'"

Doughty is an unapologetic football junkie. But the sixth-year senior's intense commitment to improving his shortcomings has helped him become the most prolific passer in the FBS the past two seasons, and it just might give the 6-1 Hilltoppers a puncher's chance when they play at No. 5 LSU on Saturday night.

Though he plays in the relative obscurity of Conference USA, Doughty's numbers scream so loudly that he's earned some notice as a (very) fringe Heisman Trophy candidate. He led the FBS last year with 4,830 passing yards and 49 touchdowns, and he has already thrown for 2,709 yards and 24 touchdowns this season while completing an FBS-best 74.1 percent of his attempts. Over his past 11 games, Doughty has completed 72.3 percent of his attempts, has tossed 50 touchdowns and has only been intercepted six times.

LSU coach Les Miles, whose team has oddly played five straight opponents who were missing their original starting signal-caller, says Doughty is "every bit an SEC quarterback."

Twice this year, Doughty has thrown for at least 350 yards -- by halftime. His stats would be even more mind-boggling if the Hilltoppers hadn't opted to ground the passing game and run out the clock in several second halves this year.

Doughty has already beaten two SEC teams in his career: Kentucky in 2013 and Vanderbilt in this season's opener. But he did throw five interceptions in a loss to Tennessee as a sophomore, and Western Kentucky lost a close game at Big Ten's Indiana last month. Now comes the biggest challenge of his career in Death Valley.

"We're not going there just to collect a check," he said. "We're going in there to win this game. That's got to be our mindset. We're 6-1, not 0-6. So we're going in to try and win the game and kind of shock some people."

He has already far surpassed initial expectations. Doughty drew almost no interest from Power 5 programs despite a successful career at North Broward High School in the recruiting hotbed of South Florida.

Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm was the quarterbacks coach at Florida Atlantic during Doughty's senior year and scouted several of his high school games. He remembers seeing a skinny kid without much speed or athleticism. Still, he ranked Doughty on the top line with then-prospects Blake Bortles and Trevor Siemian as the Owls' top recruiting targets. Bortles is now starting for the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Siemian is on Denver's roster.

"Most people are looking for a dual threat guy or, if not, a big guy with a cannon for an arm," Brohm said. "He didn't have any of that stuff going for him. But he had a good feel for the game and was an accurate passer."

Doughty decided he wanted to leave Florida for college and liked the small, concentrated campus at Western Kentucky, which had just hired Willie Taggart after making the leap from the FCS to the FBS. After a redshirt year, Doughty earned his first start in Week 3 of 2011 but also suffered a season-ending knee injury in that game (one major benefit of the injury: he got to know Sisler, a former WKU soccer player, in the training room while both were rehabbing torn ACLs).

He didn't play much in 2012 and then had an up-and-down 2013, twice losing his starting gig during Bobby Petrino's lone year on campus. He finally took flight last year under Brohm, a former star quarterback at Louisville who lasted several seasons in the NFL.

"Coach Brohm actually played, so he understands that everything is not going to work out perfectly on a play," Doughty said. "Stuff happens, people fall down, guards get beat. I knew what we were doing under coach Petrino, but with coach Brohm I understood why we're doing it. That's been key to the evolution of my success."

Brohm tailored the no-huddle offense to what his quarterback does best: make quick decisions, and deliver the ball accurately and on time.

"Since his athleticism is not superior, we drill a lot of move-the-pocket stuff, and we work the scramble drill way more than anywhere I've ever been," Brohm said. "But he's been able to slide and create just a little more time for guys to get open, and that's really helped his game."

Doughty knew there would be major questions about his athletic ability from NFL scouts, so that's one reason why he eagerly accepted a sixth year of eligibility in Bowling Green. He has worked closely with Hilltoppers assistant strength coach Domenic Reno to put on 10 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-3 frame since last season, and he says he can feel the difference in his arm strength.

Still, Doughty knows what people think when they see his video-game stats and the program for which he plays: system guy.

"The name I hear a lot is Case Keenum," Doughty said, referring to the former record-breaking gunslinger from Houston. "But I truly think I'm more versatile. I understand the game and I'm not just a spread guy. I'm a guy who has had to [learn] multiple offenses, and I've been successful in multiple offenses, so that's going to help me at the next level."

He has certainly gained plenty of collegiate experience. Doughty, whose teammates sometimes call him "Uncle Brandon," will joke about how long he's been around Western Kentucky. He says his recruitment process happened "15-to-20 years ago" and that he's been in college so long that he's forgotten what the real world is like.

But being a sixth-year student has its advantages. Doughty is working toward a master's degree in sports administration, and because it's an online curriculum he doesn't have to spend time in class. That gives him more hours in the day to study football on his iPad, even if it sometimes annoys his fiancée.

"She calls me a football muffin," he said. "I can't help myself. I'm thinking about football all the time. I'm always talking about it."

That dedication is one reason why people around football are talking about Doughty. His spotlight opportunity against LSU could enhance the conversation.