NASSAU, Bahamas – The Mid-American Conference’s Central Michigan Chippewas and Conference USA’s WKU Hilltoppers have accepted bids to play in the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Wednesday, December 24 in Nassau’s Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium at Noon ET. The game will be televised on ESPN and carried by ESPN Radio.
The 7-5 Chippewas and 7-5 Hilltoppers will be the first two teams to play a postseason NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) game outside of either the United States or Canada since the 1937 Bacardi Bowl, a 7-7 tie between Auburn and Villanova.
This will be a rematch of the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, a 24-21 Central Michigan victory over WKU in Detroit on December 26, 2012 – the only previous meeting between the schools and the last bowl game appearance for each institution.
Central Michigan, coached by Dan Enos (26-35 in five seasons overall and at Central Michigan), battled its way through a tough MAC West Division. The Chippewas won five of their last seven regular-season games, including three of their final four contests behind a conference-leading five first-team All-MAC players.
“I want to thank the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl for the invitation to be a part of its inaugural game,” Enos said. “Playing in our sixth bowl game in the past nine seasons is a great accomplishment for this program. WKU is a great team, and I expect a hard fought game when we face off on December 24. I know our players are extremely excited to have this opportunity and can’t wait to get going with bowl camp later this week.”
WKU, coached by Jeff Brohm (7-5 in one year overall and at WKU), boasts one of Conference USA’s top offensive teams. The Hilltoppers enter the bowl with a four-game winning streak, including a 67-66 overtime victory in their regular-season finale over then-No. 19 Marshall.
“It is a tremendous reward and opportunity for our players and coaches who have worked incredibly hard this season,” Brohm said. “A bowl game is one of our goals at the beginning of every season, and to be able to realize and achieve that goal is a credit to their attitude and willingness to put in the effort to get better each and every week. We look forward to getting back to practice and preparing for our second bowl game in school history.”
The Chippewas have the strongest defensive unit in the MAC. Central Michigan led the conference in total defense (331.2 yards per game), rushing defense (119.8 yards per game), passing defense (211.4 yards per game), interceptions (24) and were second in the conference in scoring defense (23.2 points per game). CMU also had a knack for controlling the clock as the Chippewas led the MAC and were eighth in the FBS in average time of possession (33:27 per game) and had two games with more than 40 minutes of offensive possession time.
Central Michigan sophomore quarterback Cooper Rush has completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,664 yards and 20 touchdowns. His favorite receiver is senior Titus Davis, who has 54 receptions for 843 yards and nine touchdowns and was named to the first-team All-MAC squad for the second-consecutive season. Senior Thomas Rawls leads the Chips in rushing yards with 210 carries for 1,103 yards and 10 touchdowns.
On defense, senior linebacker and first-team All-MAC performer Justin Cherocci leads Central Michigan with 107 total tackles and is tied for the team lead with four sacks. Sophomore safety Tony Annesse tied for the team lead with junior cornerback Brandon Greer with three interceptions and paced the Chips with 10 pass breakups.
“We are thrilled to take part in the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl,” CMU Athletic Director Dave Heeke said. “It is a fantastic opportunity for our football program and Central Michigan University. It is great to see our student-athletes rewarded with a chance to play in the Bahamas against a strong opponent in WKU. I want to thank Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and his staff for their hard work in this process.”
WKU’s prolific offense averages 44 points per game, and scored 50 or more points in six games, including 60 or more in two contests.
Hilltopppers redshirt senior Brandon Doughty leads the FBS with 4,344 yards and 44 touchdowns, averaging 362 passing yards per game (second in FBS) as he has completed 67.5 percent of his passes. Five receivers have more than 30 catches, led by junior Jared Dangerfield with 64 receptions for 738 yards and 10 TD. WKU can run the ball, too, as junior running back Leon Allen has 259 carries for 1,490 yards and 12 TD.
The Hilltopper defense, especially in the red zone, has been stout. WKU is the only team in FBS with four defensive touchdowns of 80 yards or more (the four longest plays of the year for the team), and the Hilltoppers have five defensive touchdowns in 2014, including three from redshirt junior Wonderful Terry.
Junior linebacker Nick Holt leads WKU in total tackles with 103, including seven for loss. Redshirt sophomore Branden Leston leads the Hilltoppers with four interceptions.
“We are excited to be taking part in our second bowl game in program history in our first season as Conference USA members,” WKU Director of Athletics Todd Stewart said. “I’d like to thank C-USA for allowing us to participate in this unique opportunity as well as our coaches and student-athletes for their hard work in getting our program to this point. It will be an exciting game, and WKU is proud to represent our league in the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.”
Fans wanting to purchase travel packages to the bowl can visit BahamasBowlTravel.com, call toll-free 888-613-2666 or email info@ millergt.com for information. In keeping with the bowl’s theme of #PassportToKickoff, United States citizens are reminded that they must have a valid passport to travel to the Bahamas. More information on passports can be found at passports.state.gov.
Central Michigan and WKU are expected to arrive in Nassau on December 20 for a bowl week full of events at Atlantis Bahamas, the official resort of the bowl, along with community relations appearances in the Nassau area. More information on the game and related activities will be released in the coming days.
For more information on the 2014 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, visit PopeyesBahamasBowl.com.