Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan: First Responder Bowl preview and picks against the spread

Western Kentucky (8-4) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)

Location: Fort Worth | When: Dec. 30 (12:30 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: WKU -3.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers have bounced back from a Week 1 loss that could have derailed the season. WKU fell 35-28 to FCS Central Arkansas in Week 1 and then lost 38-21 to Louisville in Week 3.

Things have gotten a lot better since. WKU finished the season 7-2. Those seven wins included victories over Army and Arkansas. The Hilltoppers dropped the Razorbacks 25-19 on Nov. 9 and helped lead to Chad Morris’ firing.

Western Michigan RB LeVante Bellamy has scored 23 rushing touchdowns in 2019. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Western Michigan: The Broncos were rolling along in November. After a loss to Eastern Michigan on Oct. 19, WMU was 4-4 and bowl eligibility looked like it could be in jeopardy.

The Broncos then reeled off three consecutive wins and were in position to make the MAC title game with a win over Northern Illinois. 

That win didn’t happen. NIU won 17-14. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

To see who becomes the first-ever First Responder Bowl winner. Last year’s game between Boise State and Boston College officially never happened after the game got called in the first quarter because of thunderstorms. Boston College was leading 7-0 at the time.

Western Kentucky defensive lineman DeAngelo Malone has 20 tackles for loss. (AP Photo/Doug Murray)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Western Kentucky DL DeAngelo Malone: Malone leas the team with 11 sacks and has 20.5 tackles for loss. He’s also the team’s second-leading tackler with 90 stops and helps anchor a defense that gives up just over 20 points per game. 

Western Michigan WR Skyy Moore: Moore is one of three WMU receivers with at least 47 catches and he leads the team in yardage with 734 yards on his 47 catches. The freshman has 20 catches over his last four games for 377 yards as he’s emerged as a playmaker for QB Jon Wassink. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Western Michigan RB LeVante Bellamy: The redshirt senior back has been one of the best statistical performers in the entire 2019 college football season with 23 rushing touchdowns and 1,412 rush yards. Since the loss to Michigan State, the 5-9, 190-pound Bellamy has averaged 131.5 yards and 2.2 touchdowns per game, plus 6.1 yards per carry. The former wide receiver hasn’t been a big part of the passing game, however, so we wouldn’t mind seeing this facet of his game against a tough WKU pass defense that allows only 200.5 yards per game through the air. Bellamy projects to be an early Day 3 pick, but he is expected to test through the roof at the NFL scouting combine.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Western Kentucky: A win would give WKU its first bowl win since a victory in the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl. It would also make first-year coach Tyson Helton just the third coach in school history to win a bowl game. 

Western Michigan: The Broncos last won a bowl game in 2015 at the Bahamas Bowl. That remains WMU’s only bowl win in school history. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: WKU -3.5

Sam Cooper: WKU -3.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: WKU -3.5

Pete Thamel: WMU +3.5

Dan Wetzel: WMU +3.5

Sean Sullivan: WKU -3.5

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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