The Midwest's only bowl game hosts the Chippewas of Central Michigan and the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Western Kentucky team is headed to its first bowl game in school history after its second consecutive 7-5 season, but the man credited for the Hilltoppers' apex won't be pacing the sidelines of Ford Field this Thursday. Homegrown head coach Willie Taggart opted to take his talents to South Florida.
Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry will be stepping in for Taggert for the interim, hoping for a Crazy Bread-for-Chicken Wings kind of substitution before handing the reins to shamed ex-Razorback Bobby Petrino.
Guidry will square off against CMU's third-year coach Dan Enos, appearing in his first bowl as a coach after winning one in each of his seasons as the Michigan State starting quarterback more than 20 years ago.
Some fans believe Enos has finally turned the ship around in Mount Pleasant, as his Chippewas head to their first bowl game since the 2009 GMAC Bowl. That followed back-to-back-to-back appearances in the Motor City Bowl, the predecessor to the Pizza Bowl. So with our thanks to the over 2,400 Little Caesars locations worldwide, let's reach into the oven and dig in to all the delicious action!
-Distance Traveled to Ford Field:
474 miles for Western Kentucky vs. 157 for CMU
-Famous Alumni: Nappy Roots
and XFL legend He Hate Me
hail from WKU, while Jeff Daniels
and the inventor of the slide whistle
-You'll Be Surprised To Know:
The Motor City Bowl became the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2009 after GM and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy.
-Brent Musberger says:
"This one’s for all the Hot-N-Readys!”
Western Kentucky and Central Michigan were an exercise in opposites this season. WKU started with a bang at 5-1, losing only to presumed national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Impressive road wins at Arkansas State and Kentucky brightened Coach Taggert's already rising star, and his program appeared the Sun Belt's team to beat.
Central Michigan started with a thud, dropping five of their first seven, including all three conference match ups. Despite a surprising win at Iowa. Coach Enos was looking like anything but a genius as his career record fell to 8–23.
As the season entered its final weeks, Western Kentucky and Central Michigan would both reverse course. WKU dropped four of its last six, including a 37-28 home loss to FAU and their 107th-ranked scoring offense, to finish just fifth in the Sun Belt. Meanwhile, CMU would win four of its last five to squeak into bowl eligibility at 6-6, good for just 7th in the MAC standings.
Forecasting this Motown showdown becomes very difficult when factoring in Taggert's sudden departure. He was primarily credited for his program's success, but does their late-season fade expose them as a paper tiger? Or did his team lose focus as rumors swirled that his days in the Bluegrass State were numbered? Running back Antonio Andrews certainly didn't succumb to distraction, sprinting for 468 yards and 3 TDs in their final two games.
The addition of the once lava-hot Petrino into the discussion further complicates things. He will likely hire much of his own staff, meaning many on the WKU sidelines could be coaching their final Hilltoppers game Thursday. Emotions for the staff, as well as for seniors like quarterback Kawaun Jakes, should be running high.
Looking at this objectively, it is amazing CMU is in a bowl game. Though they certainly finished strong, this is a team with zero impressive wins all season, unless you count beating an Iowa team that was lucky to win four games this season. Late-season victories over the dregs of the MAC don't forebode success against a talented WKU offense, nor does their perceived home-field advance in a cavernous, sparsely-attended Ford Field.
I like Western Kentucky to score at least five touchdowns in this one on their way to an emotional, victorious send-off for their seniors and, sadly, much of their coaching staff.