WKU's Doughty looks like latest mid-major QB with NFL future

Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) is sacked by Vanderbilt cornerback Tre Herndon during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (Jae S. Lee / The Tennessean via AP)

Credit: Jae S. Lee

Credit: Jae S. Lee

Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) is sacked by Vanderbilt cornerback Tre Herndon during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (Jae S. Lee / The Tennessean via AP)

Western Kentucky senior Brandon Doughty led the nation in passing last season and could be the next quarterback from a mid-major school in the NFL. Below is a list of former small-school signal-callers currently starting in the league:

Joe Flacco, Delaware — Baltimore's No. 1 draft choice in 2008 has started every game for the Ravens and holds numerous franchise records. MVP of Super Bowl XLVII.

Tony Romo, Eastern Illinois — Signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent in 2003 and became a starter three years later. Earned fourth Pro Bowl selection last season and led Cowboys to divisional round of the playoffs.

Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio) — Drafted 11th overall by Pittsburgh in 2004, "Big Ben" holds numerous club records and has helped the Steelers win five division titles and two of three Super Bowl appearances. Three-time Pro Bowl selection, including 2014.

Colin Kaepernick, Nevada — San Francisco's second-round pick in 2011 became the 49ers' starter the next year and led them to two playoff appearances, including Super Bowl XLVII. Has started every game since 2013 season.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Harvard — If nothing else, the Ivy Leaguer could be considered one of the best-educated QBs. The 11-year veteran started Sunday's opener for the New York Jets and has played for five other clubs.

Derek Carr, Fresno State — A second-round pick by Oakland in 2014 and the younger brother of 2002 No. 1 overall selection David Carr. Derek threw for 3,270 yards and 21 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and started every game as a rookie for the Raiders.

Blake Bortles, Central Florida — Jacksonville's first-round pick (sixth overall) started 13 games as a Jaguars rookie in 2014 and threw for 2,908 yards, 11 TDs and 17 interceptions.

Josh McCown, Sam Houston State — The 13-year veteran started for Cleveland in the Browns' loss to the Jets and has played for seven clubs.

Brandon Doughty might be the best quarterback you haven't heard of, until now.

Projected as a mid-round NFL draft pick, the Western Kentucky sixth-year senior could be the next obscure QB from a small school to get attention at the next level. Playing for mid-major schools certainly didn't keep Baltimore's Joe Flacco (Delaware) or Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger (Miami of Ohio) from becoming pro starters and Super Bowl winners.

Such lofty aspirations are a distant thought for Doughty, whose priority is getting WKU (2-0) past Indiana (2-0) on Saturday. If he knocks off yet another Power 5 conference team en route to a Conference USA title, the rest should take care of itself.

"Honestly, I have no idea what they're saying about me and haven't talked to anybody," Doughty said of his NFL prospects. "I'm just trying to make this team better and get us to where we want to be."

Doughty's resume' suggests anything is possible.

He led the nation in passing last season with 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns, broke several school records and won the Sammy Baugh Award as the nation's top passer. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Doughty is C-USA's preseason Offensive Player of the Year choice and on watch lists for other national awards.

Doughty's current numbers aren't likely to vault him into the Heisman Trophy conversation, especially with Power 5 conference players leading that discussion. But he's coming off a 441-yard performance in last week's 41-38 shootout win over Louisiana Tech that included a 37-yard touchdown pass.

Doughty already has a season-opening victory over Southeastern Conference member Vanderbilt under his belt and can add a victory over a Big Ten school if they beat the Hoosiers on the road. Winning will likely require a Heisman-worthy performance from the Davie, Florida, native especially with Hilltoppers senior running back Leon Allen sidelined. He was a 1,500-yard rusher in 2014, but suffered a season-ending left knee injury last week.

"I'm expecting more responsibility, but that's part of the game," Doughty said. "Things change, but you just don't replace a guy like Leon. I'm hoping we can do that by committee, and everybody has to step up."

Doughty can't do it alone, but WKU's offensive success begins and ends with him. He's shown he's up to the challenge, making his own remarkable comeback from injury.

He was a backup in 2012 after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in his first start the previous year, then reclaimed the starting spot in 2013 under then-coach Bobby Petrino. Doughty followed a victory over Kentucky with eight interceptions over the next two games, a disastrous stretch leading to his benching for a game.

Soul searching followed for the affable Doughty, who speaks openly and often about his Christian faith.

"No one likes to be talked about that they stink," Doughty recalled of the time. "I had to sit myself down, look in the mirror and think, how can I be better? I just said that I've got to focus on this thing in every way."

Doughty threw just six picks over the final eight games en route to a school-record 2,857 yards, a number he nearly doubled last season while leading WKU to its first FBS postseason victory in the Bahamas Bowl. He credits his recovery to working with then-WKU offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm, now WKU's head coach.

Brohm said Doughty's diligence has resulted in better reads, a quicker delivery and the short memory a QB needs to overcome setbacks.

"He's taken his lumps, but he fought through it," Brohm said. "He continued to look ahead and not in the rear-view mirror and performed at a high level and he matured. ...

"If he wants a chance to play beyond college, he's got to perform this year when people expect him to."

NFL Media draft analyst Chad Reuter believes Doughty could earn a Senior Bowl invitation before a host of NFL coaches with another strong season. That probably won't change initial projections of him being a backup because of his size, but Reuter notes NFL teams starting mid-major signal callers as proof that the opportunity is there.

"Scouts like how he takes command and has been able to throw left and right," Reuter said. "They also love the fact that a lot is asked of him. ... He's going to get an opportunity for sure."