Western Kentucky (7-5, 4-4 Sun Belt) vs. Central Michigan (6-6, 4-4 MAC)
WHO TO WATCH: Western Kentucky running back Antonio Andrews. The 6-foot, 211-pound junior leads the country with 2,977 all-purpose yards and is the only FBS player with more than 1,500 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving. He’s averaging 248.1 all-purpose yards per game and needs 274 yards in the bowl game to break Barry Sanders’ NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a season. Sanders amassed 3,250 yards in 1988 on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Andrews, who was a quarterback in high school, is one of four finalists for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given annually to the nation’s most versatile player.
WHAT TO WATCH: Central Michigan has given up points in bunches, and Western Kentucky has given up the football in bunches. Which of those troubling trends will continue? The Chippewas are allowing 33.3 points per game and were riddled for 40 or more points in five of their six losses. The Hilltoppers, on the other hand, are minus-1 in turnover margin. They’ve fumbled the ball 21 times this season and lost 12. They’ve also thrown 12 interceptions.
WHY TO WATCH: Even though he won’t be coaching, newly hired Western Kentucky coach Bobby Petrino will still be a hot topic. He takes over a Western Kentucky program that has progressed miles under Willie Taggart, who left to take the South Florida head-coaching job. Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry is serving as the Hilltoppers’ interim head coach for this game, a role that’s familiar to him. He stepped in as the interim head coach for Miami (Ohio) at the end of the 2010 season (after Mike Haywood left for the Pittsburgh head-coaching job) and led the RedHawks to a 35-21 victory over Middle Tennessee in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
PREDICTION: Western Kentucky 31, Central Michigan 17. It wasn’t too long ago that Western Kentucky was playing its first official season in the FBS ranks. The Hilltoppers finished 0-12 in 2009, but here they are, in their first bowl game. Central Michigan is the hot team coming in. The Chippewas had to win three in a row to close the season just to become bowl eligible. The Hilltoppers snapped a three-game losing streak with a 25-24 win over North Texas in their regular-season finale. Western Kentucky’s ability to run the ball and eat up the clock will be the difference in this one, keeping Guidry’s perfect record as an interim head coach intact.