For the first time since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Western Kentucky University football team will play in a postseason bowl. After a 7-5 regular season, WKU formally accepted an invitation Sunday to play on Dec. 26 in Detroit in the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. The Hilltoppers will square off against Central Michigan at 6:30 p.m. (CST) at Ford Field on ESPN.
“We are honored and pleased to accept a bid to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl,” said Western Kentucky University Director of Athletics Todd Stewart. “Of the last 19 teams to make the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision, only seven have earned a bowl berth in their first four seasons. We now join this group, and it further illustrates the tremendous development and growth of our program. All the credit goes to Coach Taggart, his staff and our players for their resiliency and dedication. I am especially happy for our 19 seniors for their perseverance and for overcoming the obstacles and growing pains they have endured. They never stopped believing, they have laid a tremendous foundation for our football program, and this is a reward they very much deserve. This is a great day for Western Kentucky University, and we look forward to a strong showing by the Hilltopper Nation in Detroit.”
WKU completed its transition from the FCS in 2009, becoming a member of the Sun Belt Conference in 2009. Now, in just its fourth season of eligibility, the Hilltoppers are headed to a bowl game. After combining to go 2-22 in 2009 and 2010, WKU has gone 14-10 in the last two seasons, producing winning campaigns in both 2011 and 2012.
“I couldn’t be happier for this football team — and especially this group of seniors — to be able to conclude our 2012 season with a bowl game,” said Hilltopper head football coach Willie Taggart. “This is a great day for our football program, but it is also huge for our fans and alumni. We’re excited for the opportunity, but we aren’t just happy to be in a bowl game. We’re going to this game to win it.”
The Hilltoppers got off to a fast start in 2012, winning five of its first six games — including wins over Kentucky, Southern Miss and eventual Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State. During that stretch, WKU found itself receiving votes in the USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll for the first time in program history, and was ranked top 50 in the season’s first BCS standings. The Hilltoppers went on to finish with a 7-5 record for the second straight season, and posted a 4-4 Sun Belt Conference record in a year that saw the league get a record five bowl-eligible teams.
While this will be WKU’s first FBS bowl appearance, it will not be the first bowl game in school history. The Hilltoppers defeated Arkansas State 34-19 to win the 1952 Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Ind., and downed the Coast Guard Academy 27-0 to capture the 1963 Tangerine Bowl championship in Orlando, Fla. WKU also won the 1973 and 1975 Grantland Rice Bowls, advancing to the Camellia Bowl in both seasons, which served as the championship game of the NCAA Division II playoffs. Most recently, the Hilltoppers captured the NCAA Division I-AA (FCS) national championship in 2002 with a 34-17 victory over McNeese State — the first team national championship in school history.
During the 94 seasons of Hilltopper football, WKU and Central Michigan have never met on the gridiron.
The Chippewas finished the 2012 season with a 6-6 record, but won their last three games to get bowl eligible. CMU is making its first trip to a bowl game since 2009 when it defeated Troy in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala. It also played a bowl game in Detroit (then known as the Motor City Bowl) in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Game ticket and travel package information for both Hilltopper fans and WKU students will be available through the WKU Ticket Office and Hilltopper Athletic Foundation. All that information, along with other details pertaining to the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl can be found by visiting the “Bowl Central” page at www.wkusports.com.