Staff predictions: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Corey Dull, Staff WriterBoth teams come into this game with chips on their shoulders because "they shouldn't be in this game." Western Kentucky was put into this game over conference rival Middle Tennessee State. WKU lost to MTSU, 34-29, this season. CMU was put into this game because Louisiana Tech declined a bowl bid (and never received another bowl invitation).
The Hilltoppers will be without Willie Taggart, their head coach who left to take the same job at South Florida. They are led by running back Antonio Andrews, who has ran for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. In his last game, Andrews rushed for 230 yards and averaged 9.2 yards-per-carry. WKU's defense has given up 25.6 points-per-game and has not played very well in their last three losses, giving up an average of 426.3 ypg.
CMU will be without their best wide receiver, Titus Davis, as well as fellow receivers Courtney Williams and Defarrel Davis for this bowl game because of suspensions that were handed down this weekend. Zurlon Tipton will be relied on, as he has been most of the season, to provide the spark for the CMU offense. The senior duo of Ryan Radcliff and Cody Wilson will look to connect on big pass plays. Wilson has caught a reception in 41 consecutive games and will most likely extend that streak to finish his career as a Chippewa.
I think this can be a showcase game for CMU senior left tackle Eric Fisher. Right now, he is being projected by many as a first round pick in April's NFL Draft. Without Davis and Williams, CMU will have to pound the ball against the Hilltoppers. I think CMU plays through adversity and stuns the Western Kentucky.
Prediction: Central Michigan 24, Western Kentucky 21
Jeff Horodeczny, Staff WriterThe Chippewas ended up in a bowl game after all and even better, they are in one that is close to home. They will be competing in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. CMU will face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers out of the Sun Belt Conference. Both teams finished in the middle of the pack in their conference and both have wins over BCS teams. The Hilltoppers upset Kentucky on September 15.
For the Hilltoppers, it all starts with star running back Antonio Andrews. He is sixth the nation with 1,609 rushing yards, but leads the nation with 2,977 all-purpose yards. Andrews could break Barry Sanders' single-season all-purpose yardage record with a big game on Wednesday night.
Both teams will be looking to set the tone with the run game early and it should be a very physical game up front. Western Kentucky's scoring defense ranks considerably higher than CMU, but WKU has not had to face some of the offenses that CMU has seen in the MAC. Players on both teams will be excited because it is the first bowl game for most of them. The team that has the most rushing yards and creates the most turnovers will win this game. CMU should be able to feed off the energy from the Chippewa fans. The Chippewas will win the game behind a power rushing attack and will have momentum with four wins to close the season as they get ready to head into the Big House next fall to start their 2013 season.
Prediction: Central Michigan 35, Western Kentucky 31
Steve Livingston, PublisherI have gone back and forth on this game. I might change my mind before I get done writing this. Both teams have good offenses. Western Kentucky has the better defense and special teams. CMU has lost its best two deep threats in their passing game. The Chippewas do not have to travel nearly as far and will have the benefit of a potentially raucous home crowd. CMU always draws well when they go to Ford Field for a bowl game, whether it is for the Motor City Bowl or the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl.
The keys to the game will be the performance of the two quarterbacks, if CMU can protect their quarterback and if Andrew Flory can step in for Titus Davis like he did against Eastern Michigan. I think that Western Kentucky is the better team and I think that somebody on this staff should pick them. But I also think that CMU has the home crowd and they have the advantage in all three of the keys that I just mentioned. At the start of bowl season, I picked Central Michigan to win the game. When I started writing this, I was pretty sure I was going to go with the Hilltoppers, but I was right. I changed my mind again. Even though I do not have a ton of confidence in the pick, I'm going to take the Chippewas.
Prediction: Central Michigan 38, Western Kentucky 34
Tyler Parsons, PublisherThis is one of those games where you hope CMU can take advantage of the "home" crowd and easy travel. The Chippewas have typically drawn well in Detroit at Ford Field, so I expect a very pro Central Michigan crowd. Whether they can take advantage of it will be another thing.
As it has most of the season, I really think this game comes down to CMU's ability to defend the run and not turn the ball over. And did you think I wouldn't mention Radcliff Rule of 35 for his last game? If CMU can limit Western Kentucky to under 200 yards rushing, win the turnover battle, and stay balanced on offense, this is a win. And a 7-6 record vs. a 6-7 record is HUGE in the eyes of the media, recruits and fans.
I see this one staying close, but probably not the high scoring affair many would guess. Both teams will have some rust on them, and playing the day after Christmas is always tough. In the end, Ryan Radcliff leads a late drive to end his career on a good note, and the MAC picks up a much needed win in bowl season.
Prediction: Central Michigan 31, Western Kentucky 24
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