The Little Caesars Bowl presents the Hilltoppers with their first ever post-season trip and a chance to see what Bobby Petrino has planned for the future of Western Kentucky.
The character issues surrounding Bobby Petrino have been done to death. Jeff Pearlman can take as many shots at the new Western Kentucky coach as he likes. Nothing changes the fact that the Hilltoppers have snagged a bargain. Whatever about his old-field miss-steps, Petrino does one thing really well; he wins games. A head coach in College Football is only ever going to be as loyal as his job ceiling. If a better offer comes along, he will bolt. WKU is doubly-protected for the near inevitable poaching from a top-tier program. A good year, possibly a conference championship, will cost them just $850,000 and that’s only if he stays in town for a second season. If Petrino bolts after a year, he owes the Hilltoppers $350,000 more than his salary for 2013. That’s right, should the man who brought Louisville and Arkansas to BCS might get a better job he’ll end up paying Western Kentucky for the privilege of coaching their team.
It gets better. The Sun Belt is a conference where flux is fast becoming the norm, yet the stature of the league is still growing. Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn have made Arkansas State the conference kings for the last two years, before both went on to bigger jobs. Mario Cristobal was making Florida International into a potential force, only the Panthers got dumb fast and fired him. All of a sudden there’s an opportunity for another team to step up and make a statement.
Enter Bobby Petrino where he takes over a team playing in its first ever bowl game. That inaugural bowl bid should have come a year ago but WKU was denied due to UCLA being granted a waiver despite a losing record. He inherits a team that went 7-5 in the regular season and knocked off (the admittedly awful) Kentucky and Arkansas State along the way. Willie Taggart, a near lifer with the Bowling Green school, led the Hilltoppers through the regular season before bolting for South Florida. No-one can blame him, the weather’s great. Lance Guidry will be in charge for the Little Caesars Bowl but he will be manning a team hungry to impress the real new boss.
It may only be a pizza bowl but it will be the biggest game of their lives for this Hilltoppers team. In Central Michigan they face a team final back in bowl contention after suffering a slump in the post Brian Kelly/Butch Jones era. Dan Enos is desperate for a big win but nothing in their 6-6 record points to them being able to go to another level. They were thoroughly out-classed in MAC play, needing a season-ending three game winning streak to get to parity. A soft end to their schedule certainly helped but now they face arguably the hungriest team outside of the big bowls.
I like the Hilltoppers to win and cover as -5.5 favourites.