Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. Central Michigan Chippewas Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Central Michigan Chippewas (6-6 SU, 5-7 ATS)
Little Caesars Bowl
Date/Time: Wednesday, December 26th, 2012, 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
TV: ESPN/DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: WKU -5.5/CMU +5.5
Over/Under Total: 57.5

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will get to open a late Christmas present on December 26th in the form of the school’s first-ever bowl game, when the Hilltoppers take on the Central Michigan Chippewas in the Little Caesars Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit the night after the holiday on ESPN.

The Hilltoppers have only been an FBS football program since 2009, so going to the Little Caesars Bowl is a big deal for the school and the players despite the fact that they lost four of their last six games this season, ending in fifth in the Sun Belt Conference at 7-5 (4-4 in Sun Belt).

West. Kentucky has also been in the news lately due to the musical chairs they’ve been playing with their head coach. Willie Taggart, who came to the Hilltoppers from Stanford when Jim Harbaugh jumped to the NFL and turned the program around in his three years, has cashed in on his success and left to take over the South Florida job. But before the ink was dry on Taggart’s resignation letter, Western Kentucky made even bigger headlines when they hired Bobby Petrino to take over the head coaching job at the school, the former Louisville, Atlanta Falcons and Arkansas coach that can seem to shake controversy where ever he goes even though he keeps moving every few seasons.

Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry will coach the Hilltoppers in the bowl game, but with so many faces moving on and new ones coming in, you have to believe it will have an affect on the players as they prepare for their first-ever postseason game at the campus located in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

If you have a problem with the Hilltoppers making a bowl game at just 7-5, then you’ll flip your lid to find out the that Chippewas made it into postseason play with just a 6-6 record. Central Michigan won their final three games of the season just to get to .500, beating the murderers row of 2-10 Eastern Michigan, 1-11 UMass and 4-8 Miami (OH) to “earn” an invite to the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit, just a short two-and-a-half hour drive from their campus in Mount Pleasant.

Central Michigan hasn’t been to a bowl game since former coach Butch Jones left for Cincinnati (and now Tennessee), so this will be the first trip for many of the players as well as head coach Dan Enos. They’ll also be attempting to get a game closer to .500 in the school’s bowl history, since they’ve gone 2-4 in their previous six tries even though they won the GMAC Bowl in their last appearance (in OT).

Oddsmakers originally opened the game with Western Kentucky as 6-point favorites, but with all of the coaching changes in the past week the number has dropped to minus -5.5 or -5 at most sportsbooks. The combination of the “homefield” advantage and no turnover at Central Michigan makes the Chippewas an attractive wager, but since most of the early money is on Western Kentucky, the line movement going against the steam makes this point spread one of the more fishier one coming out of Las Vegas this bowl season.

And if you want to talk about weird lines, let’s talk about the over/under total for this game. The total opened at 58.5 and can currently be found all over the map, up to 59, down to 57.5, even as low as 56.5, so if you want a certain number you might be able to find it if you look around at multiple offshore sportsbooks.

Offensively this game will feature the FBS leader in all-purpose yards, Western Kentucky’s do-everything junior running back Antonio Andrews. Andrews has run for 1,609 yards (5.8 ypc), caught 34 passes for 411 yards (12.7 ypc) and scored 14 touchdowns, but he’s also one of the country’s top returners accounting for 957 return yards and a solid 28 yards per kickoff and 12.8 yards per punt return average.

Since the Hilltoppers rely on Andrews so much to power their offense it begs the easy question if Central Michigan can just stop Andrews they should be able to stop Western Kentucky. However, the Chippewas play in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), the conference that has become (in)famous for 120-point shootouts on Tuesday nights, so it’s no surprise that Central Michigan has the 95th-ranked defense in FBS allowing over 441 yards a game and 33.3 points a contest. The 197 yards per game the Chippewas allow on the ground is especially unimpressive, so stopping Andrews from racking up more all-purpose yards could end up being a really tall task.

This means the Chippewas will need to outscore the Hilltoppers with some offense of their own. Senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff has had a decent year (59%, 2,895 yards, 20 TD, 9 INT), and he has a very dangerous weapon on the outside in sophomore Titus Davis (850 yards, 19.8 ypc, 8 TD). But Davis hurt his ankle in the Chippewas last game, and although he’s listed as probable, he still might be 100 percent. This means that Central Michigan will need to rely more on junior running back Zurlon Tipton to move the chains and keep the ball away from Andrews and the Hilltoppers, and considering that Tipton has 1,391 yards and 20 touchdowns this year, that might be their best option anyway. Tipton is also from Detroit, so he’ll be fired up to play in front of family and friends in the bowl game.

Considering that Western Kentucky has only been playing FBS football for a few years, it should be no surprise that these two schools have never met on the gridiron.

The Hilltoppers young program also doesn’t help to provide many historical betting trends either, although they did go 8-4 ATS this season including a 5-0 ATS mark in their last five non-Sun Belt games.

CMU is 2-4 SU in bowl games as mentioned, and they are just 1-6 ATS in their last seven non-MAC games. But the Chippewas are 4-1-1 ATS when they play on Wednesday, so the short trip to Detroit on the day after Christmas might play right into their hands in this game.

Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m not a huge fan of placing too much money on these “lower tier” bowl games between teams that arguably don’t even deserve to be playing in a bowl game. That said, I just can’t get past the fact that the Hilltoppers team has been turned upside down with all of the coaching changes in the past few weeks. Western Kentucky is probably the better team, with more talent, but in college that doesn’t always translate into wins (or covers). So I’m going with the safe pick here the over. Central Michigan will have a hard time stopping Andrews, but they should be able the get their points too. Take the over of 57.5.

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