Central Michigan Chippewas (7-5 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS)
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Date and Time: Wednesday, December 24, 2014, 12:00 pm EST
Where: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CMU +3.5/WKU-3.5
Over/Under Total: 66
Bet your Chippewas/Hiltoppers pick at a quality sportsbook that offers new clients up to $250 FREE and best of all you can get all set up in minutes using your credit card >>> Bovada.
The venue of Thomas Robinson National Stadium should be a nice place to play a bowl game, so lets hope the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers hold up their end of the bargain when those two travel to the Nassau, Bahamas, for the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Christmas Eve on ESPN.
The game on the field will be a rematch of the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl, a game won by the Chippewas ,24-21, but that was light years ago in football terms. The 2014 Bahamas Bowl will be a game filled with vastly contrasting styles, as the Chippewas bring the Mid-American Conferences best defense into the contest, while the Hilltoppers bring one of Conference USAs as well as the countrys top high-powered offenses to the field, in what will hopefully be a good way to kill time waiting for Santa on the day before Christmas.
Central Michigan has had a solid season for head coach Dan Enos, even though its been a roller coaster ride of sorts. The Chippewas pulled off a signature victory early in September when they stunned Purdue out of the Big Ten, 38-17, on the road in West Lafayette. But to celebrate the win they then went on a three-game losing streak including terrible losses to Syracuse (40-3) and Kansas (24-10) which doesnt look good on any resume. Just when we thought they were left for dead, the Chippewas pulled off another major stunner, beating MAC Champion Northern Illinois, 34-17, on the road in DeKalb for another giant bowl-resume building win, only to follow that with a disappoint loss at home to Ball State. To finish the season Central Michigan lost the battle for state bragging rights to Western Michigan the week before Thanksgiving at home, 32-20, so does that mean the Chippewas are ready to bounce back and be poised for a big win in the Bahamas?
After a one-year rental of coach Bobby Petrino at Western Kentucky, former quarterback Jeff Brohm has come into the Hilltopper program and put his stamp on it right away in his first season, leading them to seven wins and some of the most impressive passing and offensive numbers in the country. How impressive you ask? Well, the Hilltoppers hit 50 points in six of their 12 games this season, and touched the 60-point mark twice. After a lull midseason that saw the Hilltoppers lose three out of four game, they finished strong with bowl dreams in the sights by winning four straight to close out the year and culminated it with a stunner of their own, a 67-66, overtime win over Marshall to hand the Herd their only loss of the season.
With offense always drawing more attention than defense, its really no surprise that oddsmakers opened with Western Kentucky as favorites for this game, setting the open point spread with the Hilltoppers at minus -2.5. That number has climbed since it opened up to minus -3 at most sportsbooks, with it all the way up to minus -4 at a few of the larger offshore sportsbooks on the web.
The over/under total has also moved up since its opening mark, originating at 65 a few weeks ago and reaching as 67 at some sportsbooks. Ironically, you can still find it as low as 65.5 at the Westgate in Las Vegas, with most of the offshore places being the books up as high as 67 on their boards.
Since most casual handicappers tend to favor offense, lets start off by addressing the big offense in this game along the Western Kentucky sideline. Most of the country probably hasnt heard of Hilltoppers quarterback Brandon Doughty, but the senior led all of FBS with 4,344 yards and 44 touchdowns this season. He only threw 10 interceptions and hits on 68% of his throws, so its not like hes just throwing bubble screens all year. As you would expect he has a solid trio of receivers in Jared Dangerfield (738 yards, 10 TD), Taywan Taylor (739, 7) and Willie McNeal (511, 7) that are game-changers along the perimeter. Oh yeah, and running back Leon Allen also is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield (1,490 yards, 12 TD), so its easy to understand why the Hilltoppers averaged 44 points per game this season (6th in FBS).
The Central Michigan defense will clearly have their hands full with the Hilltoppers, but if theres a team in the entire MAC Conference capable of making it harder for them, it would be the Chippewas. Central Michigan actually finished 18th in the country versus the run (120 ypg), and 16th in overall yards allowed (331 ypg), so they could make the Hilltoppers earn it a little.
The Chippewas also use a fairly balanced attack on offense, with Michigan transfer Thomas Rawls at running back (1,105 yards, 10 TD) drawing most of the attention. If Central Michigan is going to win the Bahamas Bowl, sophomore quarterback Cooper Rush will need to improve his play, as hes thrown for 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in his last two games and only has one game all season long where he hasnt thrown and interception. If the Chippewas are to survive, he must protect the ball and not give Western Kentucky extra possessions on offense.
Theres a simple explanation why the Hilltoppers score 44 points per game, its because their defense does their damnedest to maximize their possessions by offering as little resistance as possible. The Hilltoppers defense is by far one of the worst in football, allowing 502 yards a game (123rd out of 125 FBS teams in 2014), 272 yards in the air (117th) and 39.2 points per game up on the scoreboard (123rd). Let those sink in a little. Every game this season where the Hilltoppers ran into a team that played just a little bit of defense, (lost to Illinois 42-34; La. Tech 59-10) or any defense at all (lost to UAB 42-39; Florida Atlantic 45-38; Middle Tennessee 50-47 in overtime) where the difference of just one or two stops turned out to be a game breaker.
As mentioned, these two played a few years ago on the day after Christmas in the Little Caesars Bowl, which the Chippewas covered as 6-point underdogs up in Detroit. The total stayed under the closing number of 55.5, a full 10- to 12-points lower than it is currently for this time around.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Dont be fooled by the outrageous offense numbers by Western Kentucky. They need every point they can score because they have a TERRIBLE defense. By the time you get to a bowl game, youre no longer running up the score against the weaker teams of C-USA, these a upper-tier teams now. Not saying the MAC was overly strong this year, but I dont think they are getting credit for how much better balanced they are at all three phases of the game. Central Michigan could very well win this game outright and could be worth a moneyline bet, but at the very least Ill take the Chippewas and the 4-points in the Bahamas Bowl on a neutral field.