NOAH TRISTER,AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — Western Kentucky is heading to its first bowl since joining college football’s top tier in 2009.
The Hilltoppers will play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26 against Central Michigan. Western Kentucky (7-5) was also bowl eligible last year but didn’t get to play in one.
“We are honored and pleased to accept a bid to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl,” Western Kentucky athletic director Todd Stewart said. “I am especially happy for our 19 seniors for their perseverance and for overcoming the obstacles and growing pains they have endured.”
The Sun Belt Conference team received an invite from the Pizza Bowl, which has ties with the Big Ten and Mid-American conferences. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible, postseason options from the Big Ten were limited this year.
This is Western Kentucky’s fourth season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Central Michigan (6-6) played in this bowl three straight years from 2006-08.
“We’ve had a wonderful relationship with this bowl in the past,” Central Michigan athletic director David Heeke said. “We’re excited to go to Detroit and a tremendous football event. We expect Chippewa fans to once again come out in support of our university.”
The Pizza Bowl is usually able to find a local team to invite. Western Michigan played in it last year, and Toledo made the trip the year before.
Western Kentucky made it into a bowl over Middle Tennessee, another Sun Belt team that went 8-4 and beat the Hilltoppers 34-29.
The Blue Raiders lost 45-0 on Saturday to Arkansas State, with the winner taking the Sun Belt title. Then they spent part of Sunday making their case for a bowl berth on a conference call.
Coach Rick Stockstill called being shut out devastating for his seniors and the entire team after an emotional meeting with the Blue Raiders.
“They did what they had to do on the football field and were not rewarded,” Stockstill said in a statement. “We had a great year and we will not let the momentum of our 8-4 season be derailed by other people’s decisions that I don’t agree with.”
Western Kentucky went 0-12 in 2009, but its ascent has been quick since then. The Hilltoppers were 7-1 in Sun Belt play a season ago. They won at Kentucky this year. Central Michigan won at Iowa.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.
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