The inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl will reunite Central Michigan and Western Kentucky as postseason foes, but don’t expect either team to complain. From a destination standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than Nassau in the Bahamas, even if the game takes place on Christmas Eve.
Two seasons ago, the Chippewas and Hilltoppers met in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit to finish out the 2012 season. Central Michigan used a fourth quarter touchdown to beat Western Kentucky 24-21, as both teams finished 7-6. The rematch could feature even more points, as the two teams are combining to average nearly 70 per game.
Most of that damage has been done by the Hilltoppers (7-5), who are sixth in the nation in scoring (44.0 ppg) in their first season under former Louisville quarterback Jeff Brohm. Western Kentucky is coming off of a 67-point effort in its overtime win at Marshall, which put an end to the Thundering Herd’s dreams of going undefeated, and has scored 45 or more points five other times. The Hilltoppers finished in a three-way tie in Conference USA’s East Division with a 4-4 record.
This is just Western Kentucky’s second bowl appearance despite the fact they went 8-4 under current Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino last season.
Central Michigan (7-5) also is back in the postseason for the first time since beating the Hilltoppers two seasons ago in Detroit. The Chippewas went 6-6 last season, but were not selected to fill one of the Mid-American Conference’s bowl slots. With a win in the Bahamas, Dan Enos’ team would finish with the most victories in a season since CMU went 12-2 in 2009 under Butch Jones, who is now the head coach at Tennessee.
Unlike Western Kentucky, Central Michigan has gotten it done with defense this season. The Chippewas are 16th in the nation in total (331.2 ypg) and 32nd in scoring (23.2 ppg) defense.
The 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is the only other time these two schools have met on the gridiron.
Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky
Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 24 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Western Kentucky -4
Central Michigan’s Key to Victory: Get Off to Fast Start
The Chippewas have outscored opponents 101-36 in the first quarter. Not surprisingly they are 6-2 in games in which they have led after the first 15 minutes. From then on, Central Michigan has been outscored 242-201 over the final three periods. Fortunately, the Chippewas have done a good job maintaining leads, going 5-0 when up at halftime. More of a defensive-oriented team, they have not been successful when having to playing catch up, posting a 1-4 mark when trailing at the half. Fast starts are important, but especially against a high-scoring team like Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are averaging 44 points per game, with much of that damage coming in the first half. WKU has outscored opponents 310-213 in the first half, which means on average it has an eight-point lead (26-18) at halftime. The Hilltoppers haven’t been that great at protecting leads (4-3 when up at halftime), but they possess considerably more offensive firepower than the Chippewas. Even if Central Michigan’s defense is successful in slowing down WKU’s high-powered attack, it’s critical that the Chippewas take the fight to the Hilltoppers and get out to an early lead because this is not the type of team they want to have to mount a comeback against.
Western Kentucky’s Key to Victory: Brandon Doughty’s Arm
A senior, Doughty leads the nation with 4,344 yards passing and 44 touchdowns. He’s completed 67.5 percent of his passes (ninth in FBS), thrown just 10 interceptions in 510 attempts (third) and his 163.6 passer rating is fifth nationally. Doughty is a big reason why the Hilltoppers are sixth both in total (525.3 ypg) and scoring (44.0 ppg) offense and third in passing (365.0 ypg). Western Kentucky obviously is a team that leans on its passing offense, and when Doughty has been on, he’s been near perfect. In the Hilltoppers’ seven wins, Doughty’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is a sparkling 32:3, compared to 12:7 in the five losses. Central Michigan enters this game with one of the nation’s top defenses, statistically speaking. The Chippewas are allowing just over 23 points per game and have limited passing attacks to 211.4 yards per game while intercepting 14 passes (versus 19 TD passes allowed). As well as this defense has played, it has yet to face a passing offense as prolific as Western Kentucky’s. And Doughty is just one part of the problem; as seven different Hilltoppers have caught at least 23 passes and nine have two or more touchdown receptions. Only one team (Louisiana Tech) has really been able to shut down Doughty (134-1-4 in 59-10 loss) this season, which does not bode well for Central Michigan’s defense.
Two teams with opposite strengths. Central Michigan has gotten the job with defense, while Western Kentucky has lit up the scoreboard this fall. Dan Enos’ team is back in a bowl game and beat Purdue earlier this season, but the Boilermakers went just 3-9 and other than a road win over eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois, the Chippewas haven’t defeated an FCS team with a winning record. The Hilltoppers have wins over three bowl teams, including MAC member Bowling Green and previously undefeated Marshall. Central Michigan’s defense has been solid, but it has yet to face an offense like Western Kentucky’s. Brandon Doughty shows why he’s one of the nation’s most dangerous passers, as the Hilltoppers overwhelm the Chippewas to exact a little revenge from two years ago and earn the program’s first-ever bowl victory in the process.