Toppers ready for first FBS bowl game

Lucas Aulbach

The Topper team that took the field in the final regular season game back in November was a different team than the one that that will face Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at 6:30 p.m. CT.

WKU (7-5, 4-4 Sun Belt Conference) has gone though a whirlwind of change since the team beat North Texas and earned a spot in the first FBS bowl game in school history, including losing a head coach and hiring a new one in one four-day span. At times, it seemed like the story of coach Willie Taggart’s decision to leave WKU to coach at South Florida and the hiring of Bobby Petrino to the same position overshadowed the upcoming bowl game.

Weeks have passed since the coaching change, though, and interim coach Lance Guidry said his team is focused on the task at hand.

“Those guys have been playing football for a long time,” Guidry told the Bowling Green Daily News earlier this week. “They’ve been probably playing since they were 5, 6, 7 years old. A game is a game. They’ve been practicing on this team, they know this team and what they’re going to do.”

It will be the last game at WKU ever for a senior class that has been through a lot in the past five seasons. Seniors who have been on the team for five seasons played through two 2-10 seasons and an 0-12 year before going 7-5 the past two years and eventually securing a spot for the Toppers in their first bowl game since becoming an FBS member.

Senior defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen said he couldn’t have asked for a better finish to his college career.

“This is the best way to go out – with a bang playing in this bowl game,” Allen said. “It would be good for us to go out with a win.”

The Toppers will have to get past a CMU team rocked by suspensions. The Chippewas suspended wide receivers Titus Davis, Courtney Williams and Defarrel Davis earlier this week for a violation of team rules.

The trio of receivers were a big part of the Chippewa offense. The loss of Titus Davis will have the biggest impact on WKU’s gameplan – he led CMU this year with 860 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

CMU figures to rely heavily on the running game in the absence of those receivers, and for good reason – junior running back Zurlon Tipton has picked up 1,396 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground this season.

Senior defensive tackle Rammell Lewis said the Toppers defense faces a tough task in trying to shut down Tipton.

“We have to be able to run to the ball and tackle,” Lewis said. “All 11 have got to be able to get to the ball and make plays.”

Fortunately for the Toppers, they also have one of the top rushers in the NCAA. Junior running back Antonio Andrews has rushed for 1,662 yards this season, and his average of 134.5 yards per game is good for No. 6 in the NCAA.

A win against the Chippewas would rank among the biggest wins in school history. Despite the changes in the program, Allen said earning a victory tonight is the only thing on the Toppers’ minds.

“Everybody is focused on what’s going on,” Allen said. “The task at hand to come out here and win this game.”