NCF Nation: Central Michigan Chippewas

Central Michigan came up 2 yards short of the most impressive comeback in bowl history. The Chippewas erased 34 points of Western Kentucky’s 35-point second-half lead, but came up short on a two-point conversion on the final play of the game to lose 49-48.

With one second remaining, Central Michigan took over possession on its own 25-yard line for a final chance to catch the Hilltoppers. Sophomore quarterback Cooper Rush heaved a pass to the opposite 30, where receiver Jesse Kroll was waiting to start a string of laterals that would eventually end with Titus Davis diving to reach the end zone pylon.

Davis scored four touchdowns on six receptions to help lead the improbable second-half comeback. Western Kentucky led by as much as 49-14 thanks to dominating the first two quarters. The Chippewas responded with five unanswered fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Rush.

Rush passed for 493 yards and seven touchdowns. His performance barely eclipsed that of his counterpart, Brandon Doughty. Western Kentucky’s senior quarterback threw for 486 yards and five touchdowns -- all of them in the first half -- to stake his team to a large lead.

After pulling within one on the final play, Central Michigan coach Dan Enos opted to go for the win rather than kick an extra point and go to overtime. Rush threw a fade pass to Kroll in the back corner of the end zone, but it was broken up by cornerback Wonderful Terry. On Christmas Eve, It’s a Wonderful finish.

Game ball goes to: Rush’s seven touchdown passes are tied for the most ever in a bowl game. He completed 28 of 45 passes and ran for 26 yards. He took a backseat to Doughty, the national leader in touchdown passes this season, for most of the game. But his fourth-quarter persistence set up one of the more memorable finishes in recent bowl history.

What it means: The inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl will be one that is not soon forgotten. The first bowl played outside of the United States and Canada since 1937 set a high bar for its future games.

Best play: The Hail Mary complete with three laterals and an outstretched dive at the pylon is as difficult to describe as it will be to top this bowl season. The ball found an unlikely path through Kroll to Deon Butler to Courtney Williams to Davis before reaching the end zone. It’s best just to let the pictures tell the story.

video What’s next: Western Kentucky gets an offseason to prepare for life without Doughty, who is out of eligibility. The Chippewas can take plenty of pride back to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, after closing the scoring gap in the second half. Both teams have bigger gaps to close if they hope to contend for their respective conference championships in 2015.

Viewer's Guide: Popeyes Bahamas Bowl

December, 23, 2014
Western Kentucky (7-5) and Central Michigan (7-5) face off in the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl. The two lucky teams meet Dec. 24 at noon on ESPN. Other than the palm trees and sunshine, here are a few items to keep an eye on during this matchup.

Rematch in Paradise: The last time these two teams met, a 24-21 Central Michigan win in the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl, it was 28 degrees and lightly snowing outside of Detroit's Ford Field. Wednesday's forecast for the rematch in Nassau calls for a high of 79 at the 15,000-seat Thomas A. Robinson Stadium. The renovated stadium was a gift to the Bahamas from China. It will host the first college bowl game that is taking place outside of the U.S. and Canada since 1937 when Auburn and Villanova met in the 1937 Bacardi Bowl in Havana, Cuba.

Clash of styles: Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty threw 44 touchdown passes during the regular season, most among all FBS players. He peaked with eight during a 67-66 overtime win to end Marshall's undefeated season. Behind that impressive passing attack, the Hilltoppers ranked sixth nationally in points per game (44.0) and total yards per game (525.3). They also have one of the nation's top running backs in Leon Allen, who ran for 1,490 yards this season.

Central Michigan's seven wins this season are due to its defense. The Chippewas allowed only 23.2 points per game. They chew up clock with one of the more experienced offensive lines in the country. Their starting five, which has survived intact all season, has a combined 142 starts heading into this week's game. Central Michigan's offense held the ball on average for seven more minutes than its opponents this season. In its seven wins, that number jumps to more than 12 minutes more than its opponents per game.

Michigan ties: Fans of the larger football programs in the Mitten State will see some familiar names in this game. The headliner of Central Michigan's rushing attack is senior back Thomas Rawls, a former Wolverine who transferred to the Chippewas in July. He ran for 1,103 yards in the regular season. Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos should also ring a bell. He started at quarterback for the Spartans in 1989 and 1990. He is one of five active coaches who have won bowl games as a quarterback and a coach.
Detroit or the Bahamas? Those were the final potential bowl destinations for Central Michigan players on Sunday, as they learned their fate through a fun video that the coaching staff showed to them.

With Jeopardy music playing in the background, all of the other bowl logos disappeared from the screen, leading to a showdown between the Quick Lane Bowl or the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.

With apologies to the great people of Detroit, one of these destinations is slightly more attractive during December, especially for players who already have to deal with the state's harsh winter weather. So as you can imagine, Chippewas players were thrilled to learn that that is where they will be going for a Dec. 24 matchup with Western Kentucky.

It was not without its drama, though. Watch the room of players go nuts as the choices are narrowed and then an agonizing 10-second countdown begins.

And here's the celebration from another angle.



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


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

ACC viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
It's Saturday, and we're here to catch you up on all that you should be watching throughout the day as 11 ACC teams take the field. Use the hashtags below to follow each game on Twitter. All times are ET.


East Carolina at No. 17 Virginia Tech, ESPN, #ECUvsVT: The Hokies are riding high after notching the upset at Ohio State last week. But the Pirates can help bring them back to earth if they aren't careful. ECU itself is amid a tough three-game stretch against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, and its offense, led by the dangerous Shane Carden under center, is certainly capable of testing the home team's D. If that's not enough to have the Hokies ready, these teams' past two meetings should: Narrow Virginia Tech wins in 2013 (15-10) and 2011 (17-10).

Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech, ESPN3, #GASOvsGT: Can the Eagles notch a signature road win over a Power 5 team for the second year in a row? A year after winning at Florida, they came awfully close in Week 1, falling at NC State by one after leading throughout. Now the FBS newcomers travel to face former head coach Paul Johnson and in-state neighbor Georgia Tech. Georgia Southern is coming off an 83-9 win over Savannah State last week, while the Yellow Jackets are still trying to get on-track offensively after a three-turnover performance in a win last week at Tulane.

Pitt at FIU, Fox Sports 1: Stat-watching might be a priority in this lackluster contest. Panthers running back James Conner enters with 50 carries, 367 yards and five touchdowns to his name through two weeks. Can he play himself further into early-season Heisman discussions? His coach, Paul Chryst, has not ruled out the chance that Conner still lines up at defensive end at some point this season. Still, given the workhorse he has been -- and will need to be if Pitt is to contend for the Coastal -- this might be a good chance to limit his workload in the heat and let Chad Voytik grow as a passer. Also worth keeping an eye on is the man snapping Voytik the ball, as center Artie Rowell is lost for the year after an ACL tear last week. Gabe Roberts and Alex Officer could both see action there in place of Rowell.

Syracuse at Central Michigan, ESPNEWS, #CUSEvsCMU: This game sure looks a lot more interesting than it did two weeks ago, no? The Orange have not even played a half this season with Terrel Hunt under center, as the starter was ejected from the opener after throwing a punch at a Villanova player. The offense struggled immensely without Hunt, needing two overtimes to hold off the FCS Wildcats. The Chippewas, meanwhile, ran Purdue out of their own building last week in West Lafayette, Indiana. Syracuse hopes to have gathered itself during its bye last week and unveil the faster-paced offense it had hoped to run this season.

12:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeDominique Brown
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals should provide Virginia with an early-season measuring stick of where the team stands.
No. 21 Louisville at Virginia, ESPN3, #LOUvsUVA: We should have a much better answer after this game as to just how improved Virginia really is this season. The Cardinals present a great early-season league test in Charlottesville, and Bobby Petrino's offense going up against the Cavaliers' stout defense in Louisville's first-ever ACC road game will be fascinating to watch. But can the Hoos avoid offensive miscues? That is what cost them a chance to upset UCLA in Week 1, and there is still some uncertainty at quarterback, where Matt Johns has looked better than Greyson Lambert through two games.

3:30 p.m.

Arkansas State at Miami, ESPNU, #ARSTvsMIA: Now would be a good time to see what Brad Kaaya is capable of doing, what with a game at Nebraska next week and a pair of league games after. The true freshman quarterback hasn't been bad through two games, but he hasn't really been asked to do too much, either. If the Hurricanes want to contend for the Coastal crown this season, they'll need more production out of him, and better to throw him to the (Red) Wolves of Arkansas State now than the Blackshirts of Nebraska next week under the lights.

NC State at USF, CBS Sports Network: USF forced six turnovers last week against Maryland but still could not pull out the win. Jacoby Brissett has played well through two games, but the ground game has been every bit as instrumental so far, averaging 207.5 yards per contest. Still, the Wolfpack need to start faster after falling behind at home to Georgia Southern and Old Dominion before mounting comeback wins. A 3-0 start for coach Dave Doeren after a 3-9 debut season would be absolutely huge, and it would make a bowl berth a real possibility for the Pack.

Kansas at Duke, ESPN3, #KUvsDUKE: The Jayhawks are undefeated. And Charlie Weis was set to be David Cutcliffe's boss nearly a decade ago. And Duke clearly needs to get off to a better start than it did last week at Troy after falling behind by 11 early. Still, the Blue Devils have a very balanced attack that will test Kansas far more than Southeast Missouri State did last week. And quarterback Anthony Boone has looked very, very good through two games. Expect more of the same against Kansas.

7 p.m.

Wake Forest at Utah State, CBS Sports Network: Dave Clawson did some house-cleaning this week, kicking running back Dominique Gibson and center Cody Preble off the team for a violation of team rules, in addition to suspending reserve quarterback Kevin Sousa. Clawson is coming off his first win as the Demon Deacons' head coach, but the Aggies will provide a much stiffer test than Gardner-Webb did last week. True freshman signal-caller John Wolford got much better protection last week (two sacks) than he did in a season-opening loss at Louisiana-Monroe (five), but he has to improve his decision-making after throwing three picks last week.

8 p.m.

No. 9 USC at Boston College, ESPN, #USCvsBC: USC has been among the country's most impressive teams through two weeks. BC hopes it is catching the Trojans at the right time. Steve Sarkisian's squad travels cross-country after an upset win at Stanford to face an Eagles team coming off a home loss to Pitt. Still, it's worth pointing out just how well Steve Addazio got BC to play last year against heavy favorites Clemson and Florida State, with the latter contest proving to be the Seminoles' biggest test before the national title game. Also, kudos to BC for its attire for this contest, as it honors Sept. 11 hero and lacrosse alum Welles Crowther.

All dressed up, no place to bowl

December, 10, 2013
Sometimes you can do everything right and reach that six-win trigger point to become bowl eligible. But sometimes it’s not enough.

For nine teams this year, six wins (or more) didn’t get the job done. And while 70 other teams are preparing to play an extra game, snag some swag and -- most importantly -- getting extra practice time, these nine are on the outside looking in.

While a snub is a snub, it’s always fun to rank things. Here’s a snapshot of the “Jilted 9” from the most snubbed to the least snubbed.

Toledo (7-5, 5-3)
League: MAC
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 5
Notable: Seven wins feels like it should have been enough for the Rockets -- especially with victories over Navy, Bowling Green and Buffalo -- which are all going bowling. But a limping finish that included losses to Northern Illinois and a two-point loss to Akron snaps Toledo’s streak of three-straight bowl appearances.

San Jose State (6-6, 5-3)
League: Mountain West
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 6
Notable: A top 25-finish last year and a returning standout quarterback in David Fales wasn’t enough to get the Spartans -- who were looking for back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1986-1987 -- into the postseason. Prior to their signature win over No. 16 Fresno State to close out the year, the Spartans dropped three straight to San Diego State, Nevada and Navy (3 OT).

Western Kentucky (8-4, 4-3)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: Despite closing the year with four wins and beating Arkansas State (which has a better conference record at 5-2, but a worse overall record at 7-5), Bobby Petrino and the Hilltoppers are left out. The Sun Belt has only two tie-ins (R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and GoDaddy Bowl), so they were the league that took the brunt of the snubbing. Last year -- a loss in the Little Caesars Bowl -- was the school’s first bowl appearance. Their eight wins are the most since moving to FBS ball in 2009.

Central Michigan (6-6, 5-3)
League: MAC
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 5
Notable: The Chippewas closed the year strong with three wins after dropping six of their first nine. But they failed to beat a ranked team, dropping the season opener to No. 17 Michigan 59-9 and falling to No. 23 Northern Illinois 38-17. Central Michigan had gone to five bowl games the past eight years.

Florida Atlantic (6-6, 4-4)
League: Conference USA
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 6 (Note: UTSA, though 7-5, is still in transition to NCAA Division I and won't be eligible for bowl games until next year.)
Notable: After starting the year 2-6 (coach Carl Pelini was fired, but other factors contributed to his dismissal), the Owls closed out the year with four straight wins. Their last appearance was the 2008 Motor City Bowl.

Louisiana-Monroe (6-6, 4-3)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: One of five Sun Belt teams staying home for the holidays, the Warhawks made their only appearance in the postseason last year when they lost in the Independence Bowl to Ohio, 45-14. They dropped both games against ranked teams (Oklahoma, Baylor) and dropped two of their final three to close out the season. There was some hope that the season-finale win over Louisiana-Lafayette (headed to R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl) might have been enough of a statement for inclusion.

South Alabama (6-6, 4-3)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: This was the fifth season of football for the Jaguars, who were bowl eligible for the first time since moving up from FCS. Like Louisiana-Monroe, they closed out the year with a win over Louisiana-Lafayette. But despite finishing the season with three straight wins and no games against ranked opponents, there wasn’t enough on the resume.

Troy (6-6, 4-3)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: Another one of those three-conference loss Sun Belt teams on the outside, the Trojans were 5-3 at one point during the year, but closed out the season losing three of their last four. They played the Blue Devils tough at Duke, losing 38-31 in September, but didn’t have much of a resume. Their last postseason appearance was winning the New Orleans Bowl in 2010.

Texas State (6-6, 2-5)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: In their first year of bowl eligibility after moving up from FCS, the Bobcats struggled in the Sun Belt and dropped three in a row to Arkansas State, Western Kentucky and Troy to close out the year. They lost their only game to a ranked team, Texas Tech, back in September, 33-7.

Key MAC West matchup for Ball State

November, 6, 2013
The 275-mile stretch of pavement that separates Central Michigan’s Mount Pleasant campus and Ball State’s Scheumann Stadium will go a long way in shaping the landscape of the MAC West.

Approximately four hours after Central Michigan (3-5, 2-2) boards its team bus, the Chippewas will arrive in Indiana to face Ball State (8-1, 5-0) on Wednesday, with kickoff at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2/WatchESPN.

[+] EnlargeKeith Wenning
Jeff Lack/Icon SMIKeith Wenning and Ball State look to improve on their 5-0 record in the MAC.
A Ball State win would set up a battle of conference unbeatens next week, when the Cardinals travel to take on undefeated NIU. Before BSU looks ahead to its archrival, though, the Cardinals must focus on a road-tested Central Michigan squad that will compete for the first time since Oct. 19.

The well-rested Chippewas, who last won in Muncie in 2009, are led by sophomore running back Saylor Lavallii, who has rushed for 758 yards and five touchdowns on 154 carries since starting running back Zurlon Tipton and starting quarterback Cody Kater were injured in Week 1. Central Michigan’s rushing attack is complemented by junior wide receiver Titus Davis, who has accounted for 34 receptions, 627 yards and five touchdowns.

Ball State is off to a 5-0 start in conference play for the third time since joining the league in 1975 and is tied with NIU for the MAC West lead. Behind senior quarterback Keith Wenning, who ranks fifth in the nation with 2,865 passing yards and has 23 touchdowns, the Cardinals have scored 355 points this season. Wenning’s top targets are Willie Snead, Jordan Williams and Jamill Smith, who have combined for more than 2,400 yards and 21 touchdowns.

The Central Michigan defense, which ranks 93rd in the nation, will need to contain an explosive Ball State offense that averages more than 460 yards per game. Leading the defensive charge for the Chippewas are linebackers Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton, who have each tallied exactly 84 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Ball State senior cornerback Jeffery Garrett leads an opportunistic Cardinals defense that has picked off 10 passes, has recovered 13 fumbles and is tied for sixth in the FBS in turnovers gained.

Wednesday’s matchup will mark the 46th meeting between the two teams, a series that is tied at 22-22-1.

Last season, Ball State defeated Central Michigan 41-30 in Mount Pleasant en route to the team’s first postseason bowl appearance since 2008.

Video: No. 23 NIU 38, Central Michigan 17

October, 19, 2013

Jordan Lynch rushed for 316 yards, an FBS record for a quarterback, and added four total TDs to help No. 23 Northern Illinois beat Central Michigan 38-17.

Instant analysis: C. Michigan 24, WKU 21

December, 26, 2012

Central Michigan closed the 2012 season with its fourth straight win by holding off Western Kentucky 24-21 on Wednesday night in the Little Caesars Bowl at Ford Field.

Here’s how it went down:

It was over when: Instead of trying a 36-yard field goal that could have tied the game and forced overtime, Western Kentucky elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Central Michigan 19-yard line with 51 seconds to play. Quarterback Kawaun Jakes just overthrew his tight end, Jack Doyle, who stretched out for the ball, but couldn’t come up with it inside the 5.

Turning point: With Western Kentucky punting from its own end zone, Central Michigan’s Avery Cunningham was able to get a hand on the Hilltoppers’ punt, and the Chippewas took over from their own 26 with 6:55 to play. Aided by a pair of pass interference penalties on Western Kentucky, Central Michigan needed just three plays to find the end zone and take the lead for good.

Game ball goes to: Central Michigan quarterback Ryan Radcliff finished 19-of-29 for 253 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His final touchdown was an 11-yard strike to Cody Wilson to give the Chippewas a 24-21 lead with 5:11 remaining.

Stat of the game: Central Michigan’s Zurlon Tipton rushed for 101 yards, which was his seventh straight 100-yard rushing performance.

Unsung hero: Central Michigan redshirt freshman receiver Andrew Flory had a pair of touchdown catches in the first quarter -- a 69-yarder and 29-yarder. The Chippewas were playing without two of their top three receivers, Titus Davis and Courtney Williams, both of whom were suspended for violating team policy.

What it means: After limping into the final week of October with a 2-5 record, Central Michigan put a bow on its torrid close to the season. The Chippewas (7-6) ended up winning five of their final six games.

Little Caesars Bowl keys

December, 26, 2012
Breaking down today’s Little Caesars Bowl matchup between Western Kentucky and Central Michigan:

1. Zapping Zurlon: Not only does Central Michigan’s Zurlon Tipton have one of the best names in all of college football, but he’s the centerpiece of the Chippewas’ offense. Tipton, a 6-foot-1, 219-pound junior running back, has been Mr. Dependable: He has rushed for 100 yards or more in each of his past six contests and has 19 touchdowns on the season. Western Kentucky has been pretty salty on defense this season and is 32nd nationally against the run. The Hilltoppers are allowing 138.2 yards per game on the ground. Holding Tipton under 100 yards would go a long way toward making Western Kentucky’s first bowl appearance a successful one.

2. Replacing Quanterus: The Hilltoppers will be without their best defensive player. Senior defensive end Quanterus Smith tore the ACL in his left leg in the next-to-last game of the regular season and underwent season-ending surgery. He had 12.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss and was easily Western Kentucky’s most dynamic game-changer on defense. Redshirt freshman Gavin Rocker started in Smith’s place in the regular-season finale, but the Hilltoppers also plan to rotate in sophomore T.J. Smith and freshman Calvin Washington. Central Michigan quarterback Ryan Radcliff isn’t much of a threat to run, but he is effective at avoiding the rush, moving laterally and finding his receiving targets. The Chippewas have given up only 14 sacks in 12 games.

3. Winning up front: Stopping the run hasn’t been Central Michigan’s strong suit. The Chippewas, who see a lot of spread offenses in the MAC, are 98th nationally in rushing defense and allowing an average of 198.3 rushing yards per game. Western Kentucky will try to set the tone with its running game right off the bat. The Hilltoppers are extremely physical in their offensive line and will utilize multiple tight end sets. Throw in Antonio Andrews’ versatility, and this will be a huge test for the Chippewas’ defense. Andrews has rushed for 230 yards or more in each of his past two games. If he gets into a rhythm early, Central Michigan could end up spending the rest of the game on its heels.

Pregame: Little Caesars Bowl

December, 26, 2012
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 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.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

December, 2, 2012
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5) vs. Central Michigan Chippewas (6-6)

Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m. ET, Detroit (ESPN)

Western Kentucky take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: After a 5-1 start for the Hilltoppers, they finished the season losing four of their last six, including three in a row before finishing the season with a 25-24 comeback win against North Texas.

Despite finishing fifth in the Sun Belt Conference, Western Kentucky gave Sun Belt champ Arkansas State its lone conference loss with a 26-13 win in Jonesboro, Ark.

The Hilltoppers had one of the nation’s best statistical running backs. Antonio Andrews not only led the Sun Belt with 1,614 yards but ranked sixth nationally. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns.

Western Kentucky owned the Sun Belt’s top defense, allowing a conference-low 342.8 yards per game and was equipped with the conference’s top sack artist in defensive lineman Quanterus Smith (12.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss).

Central Michigan take by Wolverine Nation's Chantel Jennings: The Chippewas showed their potential in a 32-31 early-season win over Iowa, scoring on a 47-yard field goal by David Harman with three seconds left to earn the victory.

The early momentum didn’t last, however, as Central Michigan went 2-5 through its first seven games. The Chippewas turned it around, however, and finished 4-1 in their final five games to finish 6-6 in a surprisingly deep MAC.

Keying the turnaround was talented junior running back Zurlon Tipton, who ran for 12 touchdowns in the last five games and finished the regular season with 1,391 yards and 19 touchdowns. Balancing out the offensive attack were senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff and his two favorite receivers -- sophomore Titus Davis and senior Cody Wilson. Radcliff threw 20 touchdown passes, eight to Davis.

Non-AQ players of the week

October, 31, 2011
Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independent players are chosen by a nationwide media panel.

Conference USA

Offense: Case Keenum, QB, Houston. Keenum threw for 534 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns, breaking the NCAA mark for career touchdown passes in a 73-34 win over Rice.

Defense: Milton Howell, DB, Tulsa. Howell tied school and conference records with three interceptions for 44 return yards a 38-7 win over SMU.

Special teams: Tyron Carrier, KR, Houston. Carrier tied the NCAA FBS all-time record with his seventh career kickoff return (matching Clemson’s C.J. Spiller). Carrier returned the opening kickoff 100 yards.


Offense: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. Floyed had six receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown in Notre Dame’s 56-14 home win over Navy. Floyd and his first career rushing touchdown in a win over Navy.

Defense: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame. Te'o had a game-high 13 tackles including 2 1/2 tackles for loss.

Special teams: J.D. Falslev, KR, BYU. With the Cougars trailing 35-13 late in the third quarter, Falslev returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown --BYU’s first punt return for a touchdown since Nov. 9, 2006, a span of 64 games.


East Division

Offense: Zac Dysert, QB, Miami. Dysert went 20-for-25 for 313 yards and a record-tying five touchdowns in a 41-13 victory over Buffalo. Dysert now has 7,166 career passing yards, ranking second behind only Ben Roethlisberger (10,829).

Defense: Luke Batton, LB, Kent State. Had 10 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in a win over Bowling Green.

Special Teams: Freddy Cortez, K, Kent State. Went 2-for-2 on field goal attempts against Bowling Green.

West Division

Offense: Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan. White became the school's career receptions leader in a 45-35 win over Ball State with nine catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. White holds the record with 261 career receptions and is over 1,000 yards for the season.

Defense: Johnnie Simon, Western Michigan. Had 10 tackles, a pass break up, two hurries and his second career interception in a 45-35 win over Ball State.

Special Teams: David Harman, K, Central Michigan. Kicked a career-high three field goals and accounted for nearly half of Central Michigan's points in a 23-22 win at Akron.

Mountain West

Co-offense: Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming. Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State. Smith threw for a career-best 341 yards and scored four total touchdowns in a 30-27 upset over San Diego State. Hillman had 25 times for 224 yards and two touchdowns. His 99-yard touchdown in the third quarter was the longest rush in the nation in 2011 and is also the longest in MW history. Hillman also had a 71-yard touchdown reception, finished with a career-high 305 all-purpose yards.

Co-Defense: James Dunlap, DL, UNLV. Jonathan Anderson, S, TCU. Dunlap had a career-high 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, seven tackles and a forced fumble in a 38-35 win over Colorado State. Anderson finished with a career-high and team-best 17 tackles and recorded his first career interception in a 38-28 win over BYU.

Special teams: Deante' Purvis, KR, UNLV. Had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and posted 202 total yards on five kick returns in a 38-35 win over Colorado State.

Sun Belt

Offense: Alonzo Harris, RB, Louisiana-Lafayette. Harris ran for a career-high 189 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Middle Tennessee, and became the first Cajuns running back to post a 100-yard game since 2009.

Defense: Melvin White, DB, ULL. White had an interception, fumble recovery and seven tackles in the win over Middle Tennessee.

Special Teams: Jack Griffin, K, FIU. Griffin tied a career-best with three field goals in a 23-20 overtime win over Troy. Griffin kicked a 20-yarder that tied the score with 3:31 to go in regulation, then won the game with a 22-yarder in overtime.


Offense: Cody Fajardo, QB, Nevada. Went 19-of-29 passes for 283 yards with no interceptions and rushed 13 times for 60 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-34 win at New Mexico State. Nevada trailed 27-20 at halftime before Fajardo scored two third-quarter touchdowns to give the Wolf Pack the lead for good.

Defense: Aaron Brown, LB, Hawaii. Had a team-high nine tackles (five solo), including 1.5 for a loss, and an interception in a 16-14 win over Idaho.

Special teams: Kenton Chun, K, Hawaii. Kicked a game-winning 35-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining in a victory at Idaho. Chun also made a 27-yard field goal. Entering the game, he had one career field goal attempt, making a 38-yarder in the season opener against Colorado.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

October, 3, 2011
Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independent players are selected by a national media panel.

Conference USA

Offense: Darius Johnson, WR, SMU. Had a career-high-tying two receiving touchdowns, along with 12 catches and 152 yards as SMU defeated No. 20 TCU 40-33 in overtime. It was his third straight 100-yard game.

Defense: Tyson Gale, LB, Marshall. Had a team-high seven tackles against Louisville, including a tackle for loss and the biggest play of the game when he intercepted a pass with 4:32 left in a 17-13 win.

Special teams: Kase Whitehead, P, Marshall. Dropped four of his five punts inside the 20 in the 17-13 win at Louisville. On the season, 10 of his 30 have been downed inside the 20.


Co-offense: Riley Nelson, QB, BYU. Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame. Nelson came in in relief of starter Jake Heaps and accounted for 206 yards of total offense in four drives as BYU rallied from a 24-13 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Utah State. Nelson was 10-of-14 for 144 yards and two touchdowns, adding 62 rushing yards on 11 carries. Wood ran 20 times for a career-high 191 yards and a touchdown in a win against Purdue. His 55-yard scoring scamper was also a career-long run.

Defense: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame. Had a team-high eight tackles unassisted, and a sack against Purdue.

Special teams: Alex Carlton, PK, Army. Made his first field goal of the season and made all six extra point attempts as the Black Knights beat Tulane. His six conversions moved him into sixth place on the Army career PAT made list.


East Division

Offense: Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio. Threw for over 250 yards for the third consecutive week as he finished with 276 yards passing and two touchdowns in a 17-10 victory over Kent State.

Defense: C.J. Malauulu, LB, Kent State. Had a game- and career-high 12 tackles in a 17-10 loss to Ohio. He also added three tackles for loss, a sack, a pass break-up and a forced fumble.

Special Teams: Boo Boo Gates, KR, Bowling Green. Had seven returns for 233 yards, including a career-best 77-yard return in the first quarter in a 55-10 setback at West Virginia. His seven returns are the second-most in school history, while the yards are the most ever in a game.

West Division

Offense: Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan. Threw for a career high and school record 479 yards and five touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter, in a 38-31 upset of UConn. His five touchdowns tied for second most in a game in school history.

Defense: Robert Bell, LB, Toledo. Had a career-high 12 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and one recovered fumble in a 36-13 road win at Temple.

Special Teams: David Harman, K, Central Michigan. Was 6-of-6 on extra-point attempts and 2-of-2 on field goals for 12 total points in a 48-41 win over Northern Illinois.

Mountain West

Offense: Tim Jefferson, QB, Air Force. Went 9-of-10 for 136 yards and a touchdown, and rushed 18 times for 66 yards and two scores in a 35-34 overtime win at Navy. Jefferson, who scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run, led Air Force to its second-straight win over Navy and the first in Annapolis since 1997.

Defense: Brady Amack, LB, Air Force. Had a career-high 23 tackles (11 solo), a sack and two tackles for loss in a 35-34 overtime victory at Navy. The tackle total ranks as the sixth-highest in school history and tied for the most in Mountain West history. It also tied for the most in a FBS game this season.

Special teams: Alex Means, LB, Air Force. Blocked Navy’s extra-point try in overtime. Means has blocked two kicks this season and also tied a career-high with 12 tackles and intercepted a pass.


Offense: Matt Christian, QB, New Mexico State. Went 16-of-27 for a career-high 296 yards and a career-high four touchdowns with no interceptions in a 42-28 win at New Mexico. Christian also rushed for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He had 397 yards of total offense and accounted for five of the six Aggie touchdowns in the game.

Defense: Keith Smith, LB, San Jose State. Had a team-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble in a 38-31 win at Colorado State. The forced fumble occurred in the second quarter and was returned 20 yards for a touchdown to give the Spartans a 17-7 lead.

Special teams: Justin Hernandez, WR, Idaho. Blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown with 3:11 left in Idaho’s game at Virginia. Idaho trailed 14-6 at the time and following the successful two-point conversion, the Vandals forced overtime. They lost 21-20 in the extra period.

Sun Belt

Offense: Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State. Set a new school record for completions in a game when he completed 37 passes on 49 attempts in a 26-22 win at Western Kentucky. Aplin passed for a season-high 396 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and also caught a touchdown pass against the Hilltoppers.

Defense: Lance Kelley, LB, Louisiana. Had eight tackles, a tackle-for-loss and an interception in a win over FAU. He currently leads the Cajuns and ranks fourth in the Sun Belt with 39 total tackles.

Special teams: Brett Baer, K/P, Louisiana. Scored 13 points in a 37-34 victory. He made field goals of 47 yards and 46 yards before hitting the game-winning 26-yard field goal as time expired. It was the first win for the Cajuns in the final 10 seconds of regulation since 2003.

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

September, 12, 2011
The good: It was a weekend of big wins for non-AQs. FIU picked up the first win against an AQ team in school history when the Panthers upset Louisville 24-17. New Mexico State stunned Minnesota 28-21, picking up its first win against a Big Ten team, and first win against an AQ opponent since defeating Arizona State in 1999. The Aggies have been one of the worst teams in college football -- coach DeWayne Walker has won six games there in three seasons. Taveon Rogers had two touchdowns and 88 yards receiving.

[+] EnlargeGeorge O'Leary
AP Photo/Reinhold MatayCentral Florida and coach George O'Leary dominated Boston College.
Meanwhile, Conference USA pulled out two wins against AQ opponents: UCF handled Boston College 30-3 and Rice beat Purdue 24-22. Both were milestone wins. Though UCF has beaten AQ programs before, the Knights had never done so at home. They are off to their first 2-0 start since 1998, a season removed from making the Top 25 for the first time in program history. Rice had lost 22 consecutive games to AQ opponents. The win was the Owls' first against a Big Ten team since a 40-34 win at Northwestern in 1997.

TCU rebounded in a big way against Air Force, winning 35-19 in a game that was never close. In fact, the Horned Frogs led 35-9 in the fourth quarter, and played much better on defense, even without leading tackler Tanner Brock.

The heartbreak: The MAC easily had the most heartbreaking day. Central Michigan, Toledo and Northern Illinois had leads on their AQ opponents only to come up just short.

Central Michigan led the Wildcats 13-6 at halftime and had outgained them 227 yards to 94. But the turning point came midway through the third quarter, when coach Dan Enos elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34. Tim Phillips ran for no gain. Kentucky scored on the next play to tie the game at 13, and Central Michigan never scored again in 27-13 loss.

Toledo had Ohio State on the ropes, but the Rockets killed themselves with one mistake after another: 14 penalties for 102 yards; a missed 45-yard field goal and botched hold on a 50-yard attempt; allowing a punt return for a score. A final interception from Terrance Owens on the Ohio State 17 with 48 seconds closed out a 27-22 loss.

Northern Illinois lost to Kansas 45-42 with 9 seconds left when Jayhawks quarterback Jordan Webb threw a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to B.J. Beshears. The Huskies had taken the lead with 5:03 remaining when Jasmin Hopkins scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. Kansas converted two fourth down opportunities on the winning drive. Chandler Harnish finished 27-of-33 for 315 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and added 89 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on the ground. Harnish has 11 total touchdowns in two games this season.

Not to be outdone, Fresno State and BYU each had halftime leads in their games before losing. The Bulldogs gave up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that turned the tide and lost to No. 10 Nebraska 42-29. ... BYU led Texas 13-3 but the Longhorns changed quarterbacks in the second half and that seemed to spark them to a 16-13 win. The BYU offense has not exactly gotten immediate results from new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. The Cougars rank No. 108 in the nation in total offense (275.5 ypg), and No. 107 in scoring offense (15 ppg). Despite that, they could very easily be 2-0.

The ugly: The offense clearly was not invited to the Louisiana-Kent State game. The teams combined for 19 first downs, seven turnovers and 15 penalties in one of the ugliest games of the day. Louisiana had 159 total yards; Kent State 186. Louisiana quarterback Chris Masson threw for 18 yards.

Army was one of the best teams in the nation last season in turnover margin, but so far this season, turnovers have been a big problem in an 0-2 start. In a 23-20 loss to San Diego State, the Black Knights fumbled eight times -- losing three. In two games, Army has given the ball away six times and is at minus-4 in turnover ratio.

Record watch:
  • Ohio coach Frank Solich notched his 100th career win Saturday in a 30-3 win against Gardner-Webb.
  • Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis broke Brett Favre's school passing yards mark of 7,695, in a 26-20 loss to Marshall.
  • Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw for 458 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-23 win against North Texas. He moved into fourth place on the FBS career list for passing yards (14,354) and tied Danny Wuerffel for sixth in career passing touchdowns with 114.
  • Pete Thomas became the first sophomore quarterback in Colorado State history to reach 3,000 yards passing. In a 33-14 win against Northern Colorado, Thomas was 28-for-42 for 259 yards and a touchdown -- but he also threw three interceptions.
Injury update: Colorado State linebacker Mychal Sisson broke his ankle in the second quarter against Northern Colorado and is out indefinitely. Coach Steve Fairchild said the hope is for Sisson to be able to return later this season. ... UTEP starting quarterback Nick Lamaison separated his shoulder in a loss to SMU. ... Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson was pulled from the loss to TCU and got precautionary X-rays after the game for an undisclosed injury. Nose guard Ryan Gardner injured his knee.

Helmet stickers

Eugene Cooper, WR, Bowling Green. Had career-highs in catches (6), yards (134) and touchdowns (4) in the Falcons’ 58-13 win against Morgan State. Cooper’s four receiving touchdowns tied a school record for touchdown catches in a single game.

Jerome Long, DT, San Diego State. Had a career-high 10 tackles in a 23-20 win against Army, and his sack on a critical third-down on Army's last drive of the game took Army out of field goal range.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU. Set a career-high and school record with 201 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a 24-17 upset win against Louisville.

Adrien Cole, LB, Louisiana Tech. Had 9 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and blocked Central Arkansas’ field goal in overtime, his second blocked field goal in as many games.

UCF defense. Held Boston College to three points and 84 yards passing in the 30-3 win. The Knights have yet to allow 100 passing yards in a game this season and have limited their first two opponents to three points and 260 total yards.