Little Caesars Pizza Bowl preview: Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan

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Frank Schwab
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Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)
Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Hilltoppers: Since the end of the regular season, Western Kentucky had a pretty big shakeup. Coach Willie Taggart left to take the job at South Florida, and he was replaced by Bobby Petrino, a controversial and high-profile change. Interim coach Lance Guidry will coach the team in the bowl game, not Petrino, and this is a big moment for the Hilltoppers. This is the first bowl game for the program, which joined the FBS in 2009. Western Kentucky's season highlight came on Sept. 15 with a thrilling overtime win over Kentucky, and while the team struggled down the stretch losing four of five before a season-ending win against North Texas, it should be excited to play in a bowl game.

About the Chippewas: Central Michigan was probably the last team to sneak into a bowl game - and might have been squeezed out if not for Louisiana Tech's oddly selfish refusal to play Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl. That left a spot for the Chippewas to take. Central Michigan does deserve credit for rallying to get bowl eligible. The Chippewas were just 3-6 in early November despite a win at Iowa, but won three in a row to finish the season. After finishing the last two seasons at 3-9, it was a nice sign for the program to rally and become eligible for a postseason berth.

[Play College Bowl Pick'em: Which teams do you think will win bowl games?]

Key number: 274
Western Kentucky running back Antonio Andrews needs 274 yards to break Barry Sanders' record of 3,250 all-purpose yards in a season. Andrews has 2,977 yards, and while many of those yards came on kickoff and punt returns (and unlike Sanders in 1988, his bowl totals will count toward the record), he has been a do-everything back for the Hilltoppers with 1,609 rushing yards and 411 receiving yards.

The breakdown: Well, one of the 35 bowls had to be ranked last, and this is it. These are two teams that did have their moments last year, with exciting upsets over BCS conference foes, but both teams were sweating out whether they would even be invited to a bowl game despite being eligible. If Central Michigan was the last bowl team to get in, it's arguable that Western Kentucky was the 69th choice. No matter, it's a game between a couple of teams without a lot of bowl history, which means it will mean plenty to both sides.

Frank Schwab: Central Michigan 24, Western Kentucky 21

The Chippewas did have some momentum late in the season, winning their last three. If they can do a reasonable job slowing down Antonio Andrews, who is going to get the ball early and often, then they can pull off the win in their home state.

Graham Watson: WKU 30, Central Michigan 26
Even though Willie Taggart won’t be roaming the sidelines for Western Kentucky, I believe in defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, who is 1-0 in bowl games as an interim coach. WKU running back Antonio Andrews is aiming for the NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yards and I think ending the season on a high note will motivate this team.

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