Cent. Michigan-W. Kentucky Preview
The first bowl game between a pair of United States universities to be played outside of the nation or Canada in almost 78 years is a rematch.
Western Kentucky and Central Michigan will meet for the first time since the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl when they take the field for the inaugural Bahamas Bowl on Wednesday.
The last time a bowl game involving universities that call the United States home was played somewhere other than in the country or Canada came Jan. 1, 1937, when Auburn and Villanova tied 7-all in the Bacardi Bowl in Cuba.
This time, the game will be played in Nassau as part of a series of bowls shared by the Mid-American Conference, American Athletic, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Conference USA.
Central Michigan (7-5) will represent the MAC and Western Kentucky (7-5) is completing its first season in C-USA.
"They're a good football team," Central Michigan coach Dan Enos told his school's official website. "They're going to present a lot of challenges."
Especially defensively, as the Hilltoppers ranked third in the FBS in passing yards per game (365.0) and sixth in total offense (525.3) and scoring offense (44.0) behind redshirt senior quarterback and C-USA MVP Brandon Doughty.
Enos is well aware of that ability after he watched Western Kentucky beat fellow MAC school Bowling Green 59-31 in late August.
"I came in the next day and said 'Oh man, did you guys see Western Kentucky last night? I'm glad we don't play them.' So now we're playing them. I shouldn't have opened my big mouth."
Doughty led the FBS with school records of 4,344 passing yards and 44 touchdowns - six more than Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota of Oregon.
Western Kentucky also boasts a strong running game as Leon Allen ranked 13th in the country with 1,490 yards.
"Their quarterback is an outstanding player," Enos said. "It all starts with him. He's a tremendous passer, he's tough, and he makes plays. Their running back is very good. There's going to be a lot of challenges. You've got to try and slow them down and we're going to have to tackle very well."
Doughty, granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA on Dec. 10 after he missed almost all of 2011 and '12 with injuries, will face a defense that ranked 16th in the FBS with 331.2 yards allowed per game.
"This is a team that is tough," Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm said. "They play fundamentally sound football ... they're physical, and they play outstanding defense. Those are normally the tough teams to play against. We have to make sure that we're ready to go. It's going to be a tough matchup."
The Hilltoppers were averaging 391.9 yards entering their first-ever bowl in 2012, but the Chippewas held them to 327 in a 24-21 win.
"We do have a decent amount of our players who got an opportunity to play in that bowl game and unfortunately we did not come out on top," Brohm said. "Our guys are excited about this matchup to play a team that beat us a couple years ago in a bowl game."
The Chippewas haven't played since having a three-game winning streak end with a 32-20 loss to Western Michigan on Nov. 22. The Hilltoppers enter on a four-game run after a wild 67-66 overtime victory over previously unbeaten and then-No. 19 Marshall on Nov. 28.
Doughty threw his conference-record eighth touchdown pass after the Thundering Herd went ahead 66-59 in the extra period, but instead of attempting an extra point for the tie, Brohm put the ball in Doughty's hands and he hit Willie McNeal for the winning 2-point conversion.
That capped a regular season in which the Hilltoppers set 25 program records, including total yards (6,303), yards in a game (738 against Marshall), points scored (528) and scoring average.
Western Kentucky, though, finished tied for 119th out of 125 FBS schools with 39.3 points allowed per game.
That porous defense will be tested by Chippewas running back Thomas Rawls, who had 1,103 yards despite missing three games, and receiver Titus Davis, the only player in FBS history to catch at least eight TDs in each of his four seasons.
"They have a great win under their belt in beating Northern Illinois 34-17, who won the MAC," Brohm said. "... They finished No. 1 in their conference in total defense. It'll be a great challenge for our offense to see how we match up."
While this is Western Kentucky's second bowl game, Central Michigan is 3-4 and has won its last two appearances.