Little Caesars Bowl Forecast
By Phil Steele
I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas! Let’s keep the bowl season rolling along with tonight’s Little Caesars Bowl which pits Central Michigan vs WKU. Each day there is a bowl I will have a breakdown of the game here on my blog. But if you can’t wait for the actual writeup, make sure you download my FREE Bowl Guide which gives you a glimpse of each game being played this bowl season. The Bowl Guide includes Stat Leaders, Past Meetings, Bowl Records, Game By Game Stats and Previous Bowl Game Results. Everything you need for this post season at your fingertips! Here is the forecast for today’s bowl. Make sure you check back on Thursday for the Military, Belk and Holiday Bowl forecasts and download that Bowl Guide today!
LITTLE CAESARS PIZZA BOWL
7:30 pm • ESPN • Ford Field • Detroit, MI
First meeting. Third year HC Dan Enos has CM back bowling after a two year hiatus. This is Enos’ 1st bowl as a HC and CM’s 7th overall. They are 2-4 overall including 1-2 in this bowl (previously called Motor City). CM was 0-5 vs bowl teams getting outscored 44-22 and outgained 477-351. The Chippewas played my #118 schedule. It took HC Taggart only 3 years to turn his alma mater around as after taking over an 0-12 team in 2010, the Hilltoppers improved from 2 wins to 7 wins and won 7 again this year. Of course, Taggart was poached after the season and DC Guidry will serve as interim HC here. While WKU was denied a bowl last year despite being eligible, they are excited in Bowling Green now that they’re going bowling for the first time in their short FBS history. WKU was 1-4 vs bowl teams being outscored 31-25 and outgained 394-378. If you remove Bama from the equation, you will find it interesting that despite just 1 win, the Hilltoppers outscored (31-30) and outgained (417-411) their other bowl eligible foes. WKU played my #98 schedule.
After reaching 4 straight bowls from ‘06-’09 under HC’s Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, Dan Enos took over and won just 6 games his 1st two seasons. After a 2-5 start, a bowl possibility was looking grim, but the schedule got easier and CM won 4 of its last 5 to get in. My #82 offense features a balanced attack. Sr QB Radcliff is a veteran with 36 straight starts under his belt. His favorite target is Wilson but deep threat Davis (20.0) and #3 rec Williams were susp’d for this bowl putting added pressure on Wilson. They may turn to RB Tipton more here as he became the 1st CM RB to break the 1,000 yard barrier since ‘05. He has been on a tear, ending the season with 6 straight 100 yard games, avg 149 ypg (6.1) down the stretch. The OL avg 6’4” 303 with 3 Sr starters led by possible high NFL draft choice OT Fisher. After being held under 100 rush yards in 3 of their first 5 FBS games, the Chippewas responded avg 176.5 rush ypg in their last 6. The sacks allowed have remained consistent, allowing just 14 (3.7%) this year vs 17 (3.7%) last year. Both starting LB’s had over 100 tackles for my #110 def. CM had trouble stopping the run, allowing 197 rush ypg (4.9). They did improve over the last 2 games, however, allowing just 69 rush ypg (2.2). CM also had trouble defending the pass, as foes completed 62% vs my #93 pass eff D. CM has 17 sacks with 10 of them coming in the last 4 games. The Chippewas showed a big improvement in the ST’s, as they finished #46 in my rankings, up from #88 last year. KR Lavallii avg’s a respectable 23.7 per return.
Taggart used a run dominated West Coast offense that he learned from the Harbaugh family as he played and coached under Jack and also coached under Jim. The workhorse is RB Andrews, who finished #6 in the FBS in rush ypg despite not being the starter when the season began. He rushed for over 100 yards in 9 of the last 10 games, including 3 times over 200 yards. QB Jakes is 1 td pass away from becoming WKU’s all-time leader in that category. When the running game isn’t effective, Jakes has proven to be a solid decision maker. His favorite target is TE Doyle, a Mackey semifinalist, who’s caught a pass in 21 of his last 22 games including all 12 this year. The OL avg 6’4” 304 with 2 Sr starters and has increased its rush ypg from 182 (4.0) last year to 186 (4.7) this year, while their sacks have increased slightly from 22 (7.3%) last year to 24 (7.7%) this year. Overall, WKU has my #99 ranked offense. LB Jackson is the leader of my #54 D, which has allowed just 1 foe to gain over 385 yards on the season. Just how good is the WKU D? They held Bama to its second fewest total yards on the season! A huge part of that will be missing, however, as DE Smith, the nation’s leader in sacks/gm, is out after tearing his ACL in the 2nd to last game. Smith alone had 3 sacks on Bama’s coveted OL and NFL scouts are extremely high on him. WKU has my #51 pass eff D and S Dowling is #5 in the FBS in int/gm. RB Andrews’ name again comes up when talking about my #28 ST’s unit. Not only is he a premier RB, but is also an effective RM, avg 12.8 on PR’s (#13 FBS) and 28.0 on KR’s (#16 FBS). He leads the nation in all-purpose yards avg over 248 total yards/gm!
On Bowl Selection Sunday these two were both projected to be home for the holidays. Central’s location got them selected while WKU is not that far away (5 hr drive). The teams are polar opposites in the way that they finished the season as WKU won only 2 of their final 4 while CM was dead in the water at 2-5 but won 4 of their final 5. With HC Taggart gone, I wonder how WKU will react in uncharted water being their first bowl in school history but the recent suspensions for CMU has me calling for the Hilltoppers to grab the win here.
PHIL’S FORECAST: WKU 30 CENTRAL MICHIGAN 24
Phil Steele is a college football analyst who has been publishing his annual College Football Preview since 1995. His magazine is regarded as one of the best in the business.