WKU Football

Coach Tyson Helton (center) has WKU (8-4) back in a bowl game after the Hilltoppers went 3-9 last season. The Hilltoppers will be playing in the First Responders Bowl in Dallas, Texas.

| ALEX OTTE / SPECIAL TO THE DAILY TIMES

The bluegrass state will be on center stage this college football bowl season with Kentucky, Louisville, and Western Kentucky all in bowl games for the first time since 2017.

Each school has a chance to add another win to their schedule over a respected opponent to help their recruiting efforts in the offseason. Here is a breakdown of each the schools’ bowl matchups.

WKU vs. Western Michigan

Up first are the Hilltoppers (8-4) of Western Kentucky University who accepted an invite to play in the First Responder Bowl against Western Michigan University (7-5).

Currently, Coach Tyson Helton’s team is favored by two points in the matchup against the Broncos of Western Michigan. The bowl appearance in Helton’s first year comes right after the Hilltoppers finished with an embarrassing 3-9 record in 2018.

The matchup will pit two teams with opposite strengths against each other. WKU has one of the best defenses out of any mid-major team in college football while Western Michigan fields one of the better offenses outside of the power five conferences.

Defensively, the Hilltoppers are led by defensive end DeAngelo Malone who is having what is quite possibly the best year on defense for any mid-major program. His 20.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks are among the leaders in the sport.

Ty Storey leads an efficient offense for WKU at quarterback. He has 20 total touchdowns on the season with just five interceptions thrown, and his completion percentage of 70.1% is seventh-best in FBS football.

The impressive offense of the Broncos is led by running back LeVante Bellamy who is 10th in rushing yards (1,412) in college football. His 23 rushing touchdowns are actually the most in FBS as well.

If the Hilltoppers can consistently keep Bellamy out of the endzone then WKU will win its fourth bowl game in six years and its first since 2016. Kickoff is set for 11:30 p.m. CT in Dallas, Texas on Dec. 30.

Louisville vs. Mississippi State

Like WKU, the Cardinals (7-5) earned a bowl bid after a an embarrassingly bad campaign in 2018. Louisville will be playing in the Music City Bowl in nearby Nashville on Dec. 30 against Mississippi State from the SEC.

Louisville is a much-improved team under first-year coach Scott Satterfield. Behind a dominant year from Javian Hawkins at running back and the play of quarterback Micale Cunningham, the Cardinal offense is much better from its terrible play last season.

Satterfield’s team is favored by 3.5 points in the matchup, but Mississippi State defeated the Cardinals in 2017 in the TaxSlayer Bowl 31-27. Since then, neither team has really been the same.

The big key in this game will be Louisville’s defense against the run which has been their achilles’ heel this season. The Bulldogs’ Kylin Hill is one of the best running backs in the SEC which means he could have a big day on the ground in the contest.

However, Mississippi State has had a quite a disappointing season on defense as well. In fact, they were just one Ole Miss missed field goal away from not being bowl eligible at all. Louisville should be able to outscore the Bulldogs in this matchup, and Satterfield is 3-1 in bowl games as a head coach.

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. CT on Dec. 30.

Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech

Despite losing three different quarterbacks to injury this season, the Wildcats (7-5) still clawed their way to a winning season behind the fantastic play of Lynn Bowden Jr. at quarterback.

Their reward is a berth in the Belk Bowl where they will play a Virginia Tech (8-4) team that’s favored to win by three points on New Year’s Eve at 11 a.m. CT.

The defense of the Hokies will be ready to play in this matchup as it will be defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s last game before retirement. His defensive game plan will be extremely simple: Stop Bowden Jr. from dominating the game.

But that is easier said then done. The offensive line for the Wildcats has been extremely impressive blocking not only for Bowden Jr. but for backs Asim Rose and Kavosiey Smoke as well.

This contest will come down to the play of Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback Herdon Hooker. After starting 2-2 on the season, the Hokies decided to start Hooker. Since then, they are 6-1 with Hooker starting behind center.

If he can take advantage of a suspect Kentucky secondary, then the Wildcats will not win its last game with Bowden Jr. as the star has declared for the NFL Draft.

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