CENTRAL MICHIGAN CHIPPEWAS (7-5) vs. WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS (7-5)
DEC. 24, NOON ET, THOMAS A. ROBINSON NATIONAL STADIUM, NASSAU, BAHAMAS (ESPN)
CENTRAL MICHIGAN BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: Central Michigan’s best offensive performance of the year was its 38-17 win over Purdue on the road. Thomas Rawls, a Michigan transfer, ran for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. The Chippewas also upset MAC powerhouse Northern Illinois 34-17 on another big day for Rawls (40 carries, 270 yards).
Season lowlights: It wasn't pretty when Syracuse scored 40 unanswered points on Sept. 13. The Chippewas managed only three points and 34 rushing yards in that loss. The 14-point losses to Kansas and Toledo the following two weeks made for a rough stretch in late September. They scored an average of 25.2 points per game, which put them 91st in the country.
Player to watch: Michigan fans will remember Rawls’ powerful running style from the two years he spent with the Wolverines. The senior has rolled up 1,103 rushing yards as Central Michigan’s workhorse despite missing two games (losses to Syracuse and Kansas) when he was charged with a trio of felonies for larceny and stealing credit cards. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of attempted larceny in exchange for two other charges being dropped and was reinstated to the team. He averages 23.3 carries per game, which is the seventh-highest rate in the country.
Motivation factor: This is just the second bowl trip for Central Michigan in the past five years under coach Dan Enos. The Chippewas went 6-6 last year but didn’t play in the postseason. This year, an experienced defense and talented skill players might have slightly underperformed with a 7-5 record. Enos considered the season a success nonetheless, and a bowl win would allow them to finish on a high note.
-- Dan Murphy
WESTERN KENTUCKY BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: The Hilltoppers spoiled Marshall’s bid for a perfect season by beating the Thundering Herd 67-66 in overtime on Nov. 28. Quarterback Brandon Doughty set a Conference USA record with eight touchdown passes against Marshall and hit Willie McNeal with the game-winning two-point conversion pass in overtime. The Hilltoppers rolled up 738 yards of offense (also a school record) in the highest-scoring game in conference history.
Season lowlights: Even in their losses, the Hilltoppers offense was typically difficult to stop. The one exception came Nov. 1, when they suffered an embarrassing 59-10 loss at Louisiana Tech. Doughty threw four interceptions -- Western Kentucky had five turnovers overall -- and passed for just 134 yards, and the Hilltoppers offense accumulated just 297 yards.
Player to watch: Leon Allen deserves mention after rushing for 1,490 yards and 12 touchdowns, but we have to go with Doughty, who has posted some ridiculous passing stats this season. The senior quarterback has thrown for 4,344 yards and 44 touchdowns, including games in which he threw for 593, 569 and 491 yards.
Motivation factor: The Hilltoppers won their final four games after the Louisiana Tech loss, so they certainly appear to be on a roll. During that four-game winning streak, they are winning by an average score of 50-31, so it should be fun to see if they can keep up their high-scoring ways during bowl season.
-- David Ching