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December 24, 2012

Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl: First Look

The Central Michigan Chippewas will make the 155-mile journey from Mount Pleasant to Detroit for their bowl game on December 26 to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The Chippewas will be led by third-year coach Dan Enos. This will mark Enos' first trip to a bowl game as head coach of the Chippewas and will be the team's first trip to a bowl game since the 2009 season. The Chippewas will be looking for their third FBS bowl victory.

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have been at the forefront of recent news, as they have recently hired former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. The controversial move comes only eight months after Petrino was involved in a car accident in which the passenger was his mistress, a former Arkansas volleyball player whom he had allegedly given $20,000 worth of gifts and a job as his football assistant.

Petrino's predecessor, Willie Taggart, recently left for the University of South Florida after leading the Hilltoppers to back to back 7-5 seasons. This comes after he inherited a Western Kentucky team that was riding a 20-game losing streak. During Taggert's first year, the Hilltoppers struggled to a 2-10 record, but Taggart's persistence led to a quick turnaround in just his second and third year as coach. After being left out of a bowl game last season, the Hilltoppers will finally have their chance at a bowl victory in Detroit this year. This is the Hilltoppers first ever trip to a bowl game.

For the time being, Hilltoppers defensive coordinator, Lance Guidry will be the interim coach for the bowl game after Taggart's departure. Guidry's defense will be without Sun Belt Conference defensive player of the year, defensive end Quanterus Smith. Smith was lost on November 17, suffering a knee injury against Louisiana-Lafayette. Smith had a FBS-leading 1.25 sacks per game and 12.5 total sacks in just 10 games.

The Chippewa defense will see a heavy dose of touches from junior running back Antonio Andrews, as Andrews attempts to set the all-time NCAA single-season all-purpose yardage record. Andrews has 1,609 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on the season and 2,977 total yards. To break the record on Wednesday night, he will need 274 total yards to surpass Barry Sanders' mark of 3,250. Sanders accomplished the feat during his 1988 Heisman Trophy season as a member of the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

The Hilltoppers defense will be matched up against a Central Michigan offense that showed vast improvements over the final few weeks of the season. After stumbling to a 3-6 start, the Chippewa offense finally began firing on all cylinders, in large part to the leadership of senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff and the production of junior running back Zurlon Tipton.

Tipton leads the Chippewa running attack and rushed for 1,391 yards and 19 touchdowns this season, while averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

Radcliff, who has 2,905 passing yards on the season with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions, will be without two of his top targets, Titus Davis and Courtney Williams. Davis and Williams have been suspended due to a violation of team rules. Senior standout Cody Wilson and redshirt freshman Andrew Flory will have to have big games. Wilson had 64 receptions for 739 total yards and two touchdowns this year. Flory had a big game in Davis' absence against Eastern Michigan, catching nine passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

Game time for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is 7:30 and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2. Western Kentucky is favored by 5.5 points.

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