DETROIT — Before the Bobby Petrino era begins at Western Kentucky, there’s a bowl game to play — the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Central Michigan.
The game at Ford Field on Wednesday night is in Detroit, not far from the campus of the Chippewas (6-6). The Hilltoppers (7-5) will be run by interim coach Lance Guidry.
Western Kentucky has hired Bobby Petrino as its new football coach. Petrino, 51, replaces Willie Taggart, who left WKU to become South Florida’s coach. Petrino had a 34-17 record at Arkansas and is 75-26 overall in eight seasons as a college head coach.
Petrino’s hiring has almost overshadowed the play of the Hilltoppers. They are in their first bowl since becoming a top-tier college football school in 2009.
Petrino is returning to coaching less than a year after he was dismissed at Arkansas. He had hired his former mistress to work in the Razorbacks’ football department.
Guidry, who was the team’s defensive coordinator, says his players are ready.
“These kids are really hungry,” Guidry said. “Really been having some great practices, although they’ve been going through a lot of different things with the head coaches.”
Guidry was appointed interim coach Dec. 8, a day after Willie Taggart left to coach South Florida. Two days later, Western Kentucky hired Petrino to be Taggart’s full-time replacement in a stunning move that didn’t seem to shake up the players much because familiar faces were still around.
“Even though Coach Taggert is gone, the coaches are still here with us,” Western Kentucky junior running back Antonio Andrews said. “They’ve been here since Day One.”
Dan Enos has been leading the Chippewas since 2010. Enos was hired soon after Central Michigan played in and won its last postseason game, beating Troy in the GMAC Bowl with a team put together by former coach Butch Jones, who is now coaching at Tennessee.
Central Michigan won its last three games this year to be eligible for a bowl. After going 3-9 in each of Enos’ first two seasons, his players are excited to still be playing.
“That’s why I coach,” Enos said. “That’s why our coaches coach, to have an impact on those young people.”
The running backs may have much to say in deciding how this game plays out.
Andrews has run for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns this year. He’s also a receiving threat and returns kickoffs and punts. He has 2,977 all-purpose yards on the season, just 273 behind the record set by Barry Sanders.
Central Michigan’s Zurlon Tipton has 1,391 yards rushing and 19 TDs, 258 yards receiving and another score.
“I like that whole battle-of-the-backs thing,” Tipton said. “It’s going to be a good battle, and I’m looking forward to it.”
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