When Bailey Zappe is the signal-caller, who needs a balanced offense? Certainly not Western Kentucky.
The Hilltoppers are 9-5 following their 59-38 win against Appalachian State in Saturday’s Boca Raton Bowl. That’s a fine record. Most coaches would probably sign up for it every year if they could.
But the WKU offense — particularly through the air — is much more than fine. It’s leagues above that, in fact, largely because of Zappe and wide receiver Jerreth Sterns, who is second nationally in receiving yards and third in touchdowns.
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Zappe has developed into one of college football’s best passers despite playing at a Group of 5 school and spending time in the FCS prior to this year. Western Kentucky ranked second nationally in scoring (43.1 points per game) and total offense (527.5 yards per game) and first in passing offense (434.6 yards per game) before Saturday’s game. It ranked 125th in rushing offense (92.8 yards per game).
There’s that lack of balance. But it hasn’t seemed to matter.
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And when Zappe takes the field against App State, he’ll be looking to make NCAA history in two categories and continue his meteoric rise as a passer.
Sporting News has all the information you need about Bailey Zappe and the records that could fall before the clock hits 0:00 in South Florida.
What FBS records did Bailey Zappe break?
Zappe had his eye on two single-season records: most passing yards, and most touchdowns.
He set both records against the Mountaineers on Saturday, completing 33 of 47 passes for 422 yards and six passing touchdowns. Prior to Saturday, Zappe needed only 289 yards to break former Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons’ 18-year old record of 5,833. He finished with 5,967 yards through the air — just 33 yards shy of becoming the first player to hit 6,000 passing yards in a season.
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Zappe also smashed former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow’s record-60 touchdowns in a single season. Zappe tied Burrow after completing his fourth touchdown just before halftime:
Zappe took the record outright midway through the third quarter with a 2-yard touchdown to Mitchell Tinsley to give the Hilltoppers a 45-24 lead:
What makes Zappe’s record-breaking performance even more impressive is the fact Appalachian State had given up just 12 passing touchdowns all year, to go with just 206.6 passing yards per game and 6.8 yards per completion.
Where did Bailey Zappe come from?
Zappe is in his first year with the Hilltoppers playing for Tyson Helton. He transferred from FCS Houston Baptist, where he was also a prolific passer.
In his three years of carving up the Southland Conference (2018-20), Zappe passed for 8,466 yards and 73 touchdowns while completing 61.9 percent of his passes. That was under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Zac Kittley, who followed Zappe to Western Kentucky but left the program prior to the bowl game to take the same job at Texas Tech.
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Zappe also posted impressive numbers at his Texas high school, but Houston Baptist was the only school to offer him a scholarship. He was the Southland’s co-Offensive Player of the Year last year.
He has had no problem making the jump to the FBS. He has passed for more than 300 yards in 12 of 13 games and more than 400 yards seven times. He has never had a game this season with fewer than three touchdowns.
What is Bailey Zappe’s NFL Draft stock?
Unlike some projected first-round picks, Zappe is not forgoing his bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft. He ranks first nationally in passing yards and touchdowns and ninth in completion percentage.
But even with those impressive numbers, multiple outlets see him as a Day 3 pick, with ESPN comparing him to current Washington Football Team starter Taylor Heinicke.
He’s second nationally in completions and first in pass attempts, so he clearly has gotten enough reps and shown that he has a big arm and can make accurate throws. Now, it may just be a matter of how Zappe does on the big stage and if he wins any believers. This game will be one of his first on national television.