WKU accepts bid to Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Head football coach Willie Taggart (left) and Athletic Director Stewart laugh during a press conference Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at Diddle Arena. Western Kentucky will make its first postseason debut in history by playing Central Michigan in the Little Ceasers Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit. 

Lucas Aulbach

WKU will play in its first bowl as an FBS member.

The Toppers accepted a bid Sunday to play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26 in Detroit, where they will face Central Michigan.

Accepting the invitation was a huge step for the WKU football program, coach Willie Taggart said.

“You just look back to where our program was three years ago and where we are now,” Taggart said. “It’s monumental for our football program and where we’re trying to go.”

WKU (7-5, 4-4 Sun Belt Conference) needed a lot of help to earn its first bowl bid.

The situation was eerily similar to last year, when the Toppers finished 7-5 and were one of the last teams left out of bowl contention. It looked like WKU would be left out of a bowl again for much of Sunday before the news broke around 6 p.m.

The announcement at the final hour came as a surprise to even those on the team.

“I had faith but I’m not going to lie, I was nervous,” senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes said. “I can’t sit here and lie and say I wasn’t. You pray on things like that and I had faith in Coach ‘T’ and Todd (Stewart, athletics director). They came through.”

The Toppers were competing with Middle Tennessee State for what was presumed to be the final available bowl bid.

Another bowl-eligible team folding may have helped WKU sneak into one of the last available bowl positions.

WKU might have been helped by Louisiana Tech. Despite finishing 9-3, the Bulldogs reportedly turned down an invitation to the Independence Bowl because they were anticipating an invite from the Liberty Bowl. But when the Liberty Bowl picked Iowa State, La. Tech came up empty.

However, Taggart said the biggest force working in WKU’s favor was Stewart.

“I know Todd said all the credit goes to us, but he has been working his tail off these last few weeks and making sure that what happened to WKU last year doesn’t happen again,” he said. “All he kept saying is ‘you’ve got to believe, keep believing.’ He worked his tail off.”

Stewart was able to convince Little Caesars Pizza Bowl representatives that WKU was the right choice for the game despite finishing 7-5.

“They’re there because they earned it,” he said. “We’re there in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl because Detroit wanted Western Kentucky.”

Ken Hoffman, executive director of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, said WKU had several marketable factors working for it, such as junior running back Antonio Andrews’ chase of the single-season all-purpose yardage record.

He also said the fact that this will be WKU’s first bowl appearance as an FBS school was also taken into account.

“We have a history of selecting teams making their first bowl trip, or their first bowl trip in a long time — it’s been a very successful formula for us,” he said during a conference call Sunday.

Hoffman said WKU’s attendance record ended up helping the school as well. The Toppers recorded two sellout games at home this year.

“We know that season tickets were up, attendance was up,” he said. “Clearly the interest is higher. They are the definition of being a bowl-hungry team and university.”