Football

WKU faces Central Michigan in Bahamas Bowl (noon, ESPN)

In his first full season as a starter last season, Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) set school records for passing yards (2,857) and completion percentage (65.8). He's a senior now.
In his first full season as a starter last season, Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) set school records for passing yards (2,857) and completion percentage (65.8). He's a senior now. AP

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers must be wondering what they did to deserve a trip to the Bahamas for Christmas.

For that matter, the Central Michigan Chippewas must certainly be thinking along the same lines.

Both are bowl-deserving teams, mind you, but the Hilltoppers and Chippewas, in many ways, have landed in the most prime locale one could possibly imagine in the wintertime, as combatants in the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.

One gets the feeling that outside of those competing for the national championship, the Hilltoppers and Chippewas wouldn't trade places with anyone on the postseason bowl circuit.

"Guys said they wanted to go south," Central Michigan Coach Dan Enos said. "I don't think you can go any more south than this."

Since arriving in the island nation, players have been swimming with dolphins, participating in clinics with Bahamian children to expose them to American football, checking out the posh resort where they're staying and taking tons of photos.

But the mood changes Wednesday, when Western Kentucky and Central Michigan square off in the first bowl game outside of the U.S. or Canada since 1937.

The game will be played at Nassau's Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, a 15,000-seat facility that was a gift from China to the Bahamas. It was officially opened in 2012.

"To be one of the inaugural teams to come in here and play the first game here (and) to show the local people what football really is, I think that's important," Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty said. "There's a lot of distractions in the Bahamas. We want to have fun with it, but we understand why we are here — to play a football game."

When he received news of his team's bowl berth, first-year Western Kentucky Coach Jeff Brohm believed the Hilltoppers would be focused and intent on reversing the result of the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit, where Central Michigan defeated WKU 24-21.

More than two weeks later, he maintains the belief.

"I think our guys are ready to go," Brohm said. "They understand the importance of working hard when it's time to work and get better. Our guys understand that, bottom line, we are here to win this football game."

Plenty of eyes will be on Doughty, with good reason.

He leads the nation with 4,344 passing yards and 44 touchdowns, leading an offense that averaged 44 points per game in the regular season — sixth-best in the nation. The Hilltoppers were the nation's only team to reach the 66-point mark twice, one of those the 67-66 thriller that erased Marshall's hopes for a perfect season.

In Doughty's way will be a Central Michigan defense that held six of its 12 opponents this season to 17 points or less — and won all six of those games.

The Western Kentucky offense isn't entirely about Doughty. Running back Leon Allen had a breakout junior year, with 1,490 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Allen rushed 33 times for 345 yards against Army and 33 more times for 237 yards against Marshall. He's also caught 46 passes.

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