Know the foe: Western Kentucky

Posted on Mar 19, 2013 in Alumni News, News, and Sports

As the Jayhawks prepare to meet 16-seeded Western Kentucky (20-15) in their first game of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, here’s a KU alumni scouting report on the Hilltoppers. Despite what you may think, KU and WKU share some similarities beyond a couple of initials.


For many years, the Jayhawker yearbook staff singled out several KU students for academic achievement and involvement on the Hill and in the community with the Hilltopper Award. The award began in 1927 under the name Prominent Jayhawkers and became known as the Hilltopper in the late 1950s. Over the years, the Hilltopper Award held other names, including Hill Personalities and Big Wheels on Campus. KU’s Hilltoppers were profiled in the Jayhawker yearbook but received no red towel to wave.

Big Red  © WKUsports.comBig-time Mascots

One of the reasons we love Big Jay is because our mythical mascot is one of the most unique in college sports. Well Western Kentucky’s mascot is a pretty big deal too, and also unique. Meet Big Red, a big… red… well, let’s let Chad Bishop of the Bowling Green Daily News tell it.

“Big Red, Western Kentucky University’s amorphous, ambiguous, asexual and always lovable representative of the school’s athletics, has spent more than 30 years rising to an unimaginable state of popularity and national – sometimes global – recognition.”

The round, furry creature was featured in an ESPN Sportscenter promo and even starred in WKU’s version of this year’s video craze, the Harlem Shake. Don’t feel blue, Big Jay. You’re still our favorite. (You too, Baby Jay).

“Red is the new blue”

In addition to having one color in common, Jayhawks share one more thing with the Hilltoppers. Turns out KU fans aren’t alone in their disdain for the Kentucky Wildcats. When KU met UK in the 2012 NCAA championship game, there were several Hilltopper fans rooting for the Jayhawks to beat their in-state nemesis. Their rivalry reached a crescendo last fall, when WKU won a thrilling football overtime victory against the ‘Cats in Lexington …on a trick play. The highlight video went viral, and Head Coach Willie Taggart fueled the rivalry with his now infamous post-game comments, saying, “I will tell you this: The WKU red is the new blue in Kentucky now, baby! How ’bout that?”

We prefer crimson, Coach, but congratulations on the win! Now, check out the Hilltoppers’ trickery in this video:

Coach Bowen

Speaking of football, current KU football linebackers coach Clint Bowen served as defensive coordinator for the WKU Hilltoppers in 2010. The 12-year KU coaching veteran was a part of Mark Mangino’s staff that took KU to the Orange Bowl in 2008. He joined the Western Kentucky coaching staff in Bowling Green for a season, then moved on to North Texas State for the 2011 season in the same role before coming back to Kansas under Head Coach Charlie Weis. While he enjoyed his time at Western Kentucky, there’s no question who Bowen, d’96, will be pulling for on Friday. The Lawrence native and former KU football player who helped lead the Jayhawks to victory in the 1992 Aloha Bowl is a Jayhawk born and bred.

Twitter Trouble

One final tip: take care while tweeting, because the two schools can be confused by little more than a typo. While the KU Alumni Association that we know and love weighs in with the Twitter handle @kualumni, the alumni association of our opponent this week tweets with the all-too-familiar moniker @wkualumni. Blink and you might miss the one-letter difference, but fans of Jeff Withey can help you spot it. Just put your palms out, touch your thumbs, and there you have it.

Seriously though, we salute our WKU Alumni Association counterparts and their goals to cultivate the WKU Spirit and strengthen membership by building lifelong relationships. Rock Chalk!

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