For the first time since the 2009-10 season, Central Michigan is heading to a bowl game.
The Chippewas won their final three games of the season to reach the .500 mark and were rewarded with a trip to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, where they will take on Western Kentucky on Dec. 26.
The Hilltoppers finished the season 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Sun Belt Conference. After starting the season 5-1, including an overtime victory against Kentucky on Sept. 15, WKU lost four of its final six games. WKU will be playing in its first bowl game since becoming a Division I program in 2009.
“Just like a lot of our players, this will be their players’ first bowl game,” head coach Dan Enos said. “It’s fun for everybody, and I know they’ve got to be awfully proud of their football team and what they’ve accomplished.”
Much like CMU, WKU has a dominant junior running back in Antonio Andrews.
The Fort Campbell, Ky., native received Sun Belt Conference first-team honors after gaining 1,609 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns in 2012. Andrews finished No. 8 in the country in rushing yards.
“He’s got very good vision,” Enos said. “He’s powerful, and they do a very good job with him scheme-wise. The offensive line and tight ends do a good job blocking for him.”
WKU senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes is a second-team all-Sun Belt selection. He finished the regular season with 2,289 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also threw 11 interceptions.
Senior tight end Jack Doyle is the Hilltoppers leading receiver. He caught 47 passes for 530 yards and four touchdowns this season. Sophomore wide receiver Willie McNeal led the team with six touchdown catches and also caught 40 passes for 506 yards.
“They have a back they rely on, we’ve got a back we rely on;” Enos said. “They throw the ball to a lot of different people, kind of like we’re trying to do. There are a lot of similarities, so it’s going to be a bonus that our defense gets to practice against us, and then again they have the same advantage.”
On defense, the Hilltoppers boast the nation’s leader in sacks in senior defensive end Qunaterus Smith. He was recently named the Sun Belt Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Junior linebacker Andrew Jackson leads the Hilltoppers in tackles with 116.
“It will be two young, good football teams going at it,” Enos said. “I have a lot of respect for their coach and their staff. I’ve watched them a lot on film; they’re a good football team.”