Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan: Pizza Bowl Breakdown

Publish date:

Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6) Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)


? Reason to watch: It's a chance to see the team that Bobby Petrino will inherit in 2013. After flying under the radar since moving up to the FBS four years ago, Western Kentucky exploded into the national spotlight when it hired Petrino on Dec. 10. The Hilltoppers have steadily improved since their 0-12 campaign in 2009, and, following program savior Willie Taggart's departure to South Florida, they tapped the exiled Arkansas coach to continue their ascent. Pass-rushing standout Quanterus Smith (12.5 sacks, tied for fourth nationally) will play his final game at Ford Field, while star running back Antonio Andrews will showcase his skill set before returning to campus as a senior. This game also provides a chance to witness some MACtion, which is never a bad thing. Though Central Michigan finished 6-6, it knocked off Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio) and UMass down the stretch to lock up bowl eligibility for the fifth time in the past seven seasons.

? Keep an eye on: Andrews, the most electrifying player you've likely never heard of. A 6-foot, 211-pounder out of Fort Campbell, Ky., Andrews finished the regular season with 2,997 all-purpose yards, the most in the nation and the third most in NCAA history. He needs just 274 yards to break Barry Sanders' single-season record of 3,250 all-purpose yards, and he could be in for a big bowl showing against a Central Michigan team that ranks 99th in the FBS in rushing defense. The Chippewas boast a standout back of their own, as superbly named Zurlon Tipton tied for the MAC lead with 19 rushing touchdowns. He found the end zone seven times during Central Michigan's season-ending three-game winning streak.

? Did you know: Hilltoppers' interim coach Lance Guidry, who will lead Western Kentucky in Taggart's absence, has been in a similar position before. He took over at Miami (Ohio) after Mike Haywood was hired by Pitt -- a tenure that lasted all of two weeks -- and led the RedHawks to a 35-21 victory over Middle Tennessee in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl. On the Chippewas' sideline, Dan Enos will make his first bowl appearance since replacing Butch Jones after the 2009 season.

? Final analysis: Central Michigan was the hotter team down the stretch, and Tipton and sophomore linebacker Justin Cherocci (124 tackles) should make their presence felt. Still, Western Kentucky boasts more firepower, as Andrews, quarterback Kawaun Jakes and Co. could create all kinds of issues for a Chippewas' defense that surrendered more than 440 yards per game. Look for Andrews to etch his name into the record books -- and for the Hilltoppers to capture their first bowl victory.

? The pick: Western Kentucky 34, Central Michigan 24