WKU guaranteed a bowl berth with win over Marshall

WKU’s Leon Allen soars through the air during Saturday’s game against No. 19 Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia. Allen rushed for a game-high 237 yards and a touchdown. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

This is the first time in the last four years that WKU Athletics Director Todd Stewart doesn’t have to work to push the Hilltopper football program into the postseason.

It’s already on lock.

“What has been nice about this week, versus each of the last three years, was this was a week, before, of heavy lobbying — calling and selling and calling back and double-checking and sending the 15th email and leaving the 20th message, and now we’re not having to do any of that because of the position we’re in,” Stewart said. “It’s been much easier this time around.”

WKU (7-5, 4-4 Conference USA) secured its place in a bowl game for just the second time in the last four years of eligibility, by going on the road and defeating then No. 19 Marshall 67-66 in overtime on Nov. 28.

The bowl lineups will be announced on Sunday.

“It’s definitely one of those games you’ll remember for a long time,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “It was a statement game. It really showed what Western Kentucky can be in the future… To beat an undefeated opponent in the top 25 on their turf in the last game of the year, it’s just a great way to go out.”

WKU handed Marshall (11-1, 7-1) its first loss of the season, knocking the Thundering Herd out of contention for a New Year’s Day game and shattering their first undefeated season since 1999.

Marshall and Louisiana Tech will play for the Conference USA championship in Huntington, West Virginia this Saturday.

When WKU announced its move to C-USA in April 2013, it knew right away that its football program would reap the benefits of the league’s multiple bowl tie-ins.

C-USA guarantees five bowl games to teams with seven or more wins. If the bowls can’t be filled, the teams with 6-6 records are next in line.

WKU’s upset win, on the road at then-undefeated Marshall, not only bolstered their resume, but guaranteed their spot in the post season, with a 7-5 regular season record.

Despite last season’s 8-4 record, a program best, in their last year of the Sun Belt Conference, the Hilltoppers were left out of the postseason because the league only guaranteed two bowl games. Instead, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State finished first and second, respectively, in the conference in 2013 and earned a bowl berth over WKU.

C-USA has primary bowl tie-ins with the newly formed Bahamas Bowl, Boca Raton Bowl and New Mexico Bowl, along with the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Hawaii Bowl.

Stewart said the only bowl outside of the C-USA tie-ins that could be open as an option for WKU would be the New Orleans Bowl, which usually pits a representative from the Sun Belt and the Mountain West Conference.

“Now we’re just kind of in a wait-and-see mode,” Stewart said. “We need to find out what happens this weekend in the conference championship games…and whether or not the New Orleans Bowl opens up, and play into where Conference USA schools go. There are four or five possibilities in terms of where we’ll be, but we won’t know really until Sunday.”

WKU’s lone bowl trip occurred in 2012 when the Hilltoppers fell 24-21 to Central Michigan in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl in Detroit, Michigan. However, WKU’s options, as an affiliate of C-USA, will have the Hilltoppers playing in much warmer weather this season.

“I do like warm weather,” Brohm said. “They all sound good to me.”