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Little Caesars Bowl
Central Michigan has somewhat of an advantage with the bowl being played just a couple hours away from their campus, but it's a minimal advantage at best as WKU comes in as roughly 5-point favorites. Each of these schools had some rough patches this year, yet each was able to become bowl eligible.
Western Kentucky became eligible back in October, but they proceeded to lose three straight games and lost any shot at winning the Sun Belt Conference. Early in the season, they had a shot after winning convincingly at Arkansas State (conference champs). Even after losing in overtime to LA-Monroe, their chances were still there but losses to Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic did them in.
On the other side of the field, Central Michigan never had a chance to win the MAC. They started the season with a 0-3 conference record and 2-5 overall. Scattered in there was a huge road win at Iowa. That had as much significance as Western Kentucky's win at Kentucky, which happened to have the same 32-31 score line. Unlike the Hilltoppers, the Chippewas didn't beat anyone with a winning record. In fact, the overall record for the teams they beat was 15-56. That's not very good at all.
The Chips are led by senior QB Ryan Radcliff who cut down on his interceptions this season. He finished with 2,905 yards, 20 TDs and nine INTs. He wasn't the reason they won their last three games and got to a bowl game, though. Running back Zurlon Tipton was unstoppable to finish the season. He had at least 100 yards in the last six games to go with 13 touchdowns. He only hit 100 yards once in the first six games of the year. After their rough 0-3 conference start, CMU realized they needed to run more and it led to more wins for them.
Offensively, the Hilltoppers are much in the same mold led by running back, Antonio Andrews, who turned into a force this season. He hit 100 yards in nine of the last 10 games and had over 200 yards in three of those. Andrews became the starter in the third week when the coaches found out how much he improved from the 2011 season. Andrews is one of four finalists for the 2012 Paul Hornung award which is given out to the nation's most versatile player. He's up against the likes of Tavon Austin and Marqise Lee, some of the most electric players in the country. On the ground, Andrews has 1,609 yards and 11 TDs with 5.8 yards per carry. He's also a top receiver with 34 receptions for 411 yards and three TDs. The offense runs through him to say the least. Senior QB Kawaun Jakes also deserves a mention as he's doubled his touchdown production from last year. He hasn't had to throw much, but he does have 21 TDs and 11 INTs. Neither team has a great defense which means there should be plenty of open holes for these running backs to find.
This is a tough one to handicap. Our model likes Western Kentucky by the same number as the current line, no edge there. Other numbers we like to use suggest this game is a toss up, which would have us lean towards the dog. So this is a game where we have to look at other factors, such as motivation and momentum.
The momentum category would have to favor Central Michigan as they won 4 out of 5 down the stretch while Western Kentucky stumbled, dropping 4 of their last 6. But a closer look shows us that Central Michigan won against an incredibly weak schedule in that time frame.
Western Kentucky has come a long way since an 0-12 year in 2009. To top is all off, they were snubbed last year from a bowl appearance despite going 7-5. We'd expect them to make the most of this opportunity. When W. Kentucky faced the best their conference had to offer this year, they rose to the occassion. They beat Arkansas State, and lost to La Monroe by 1 and La Laf by 4. When Central Michigan stepped up in class, they were hammered and for that matter, even lost by a wide margin to some bad MAC teams and barely got by one of the worst, Eastern Michigan. Western Kentucky should have the motivational edge here. Expect them to make sure they aren't snubbed for a bowl birth anytime in the near future. Western Kentucky -5
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