EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Central Michigan’s trip west has turned wild, and the Chippewas still have the goal of ending a five-game losing streak in bowl games.
It’ll just be in a different bowl.
One thing didn’t change: Central Michigan (8-4) is still in the desert southwest for a New Year’s Eve bowl game. But it’s the Sun Bowl against Washington State today instead of the Arizona Bowl against Boise State.
COVID-19 issues knocked Boise State out of the Arizona Bowl and Miami out of the Sun. The result was an agreement for the Chippewas to stay in Tucson, Arizona, because they were already there, and take the four-hour ride to El Paso, Texas. They arrived Thursday.
“For any football program, you’ve got to be able to improvise, adjust, overcome,” coach Jim McElwaine said Wednesday. “We’re on the same page, the kids know the routine. We altered it a little bit but try to keep it as normal as possible and go play the game.”
Washington State coach Jake Dickert will be on the sideline for the first time since having the interim tagged removed the day after an Apple Cup win over Washington last month.
The Cougars (7-5) were 3-2 after Nick Rolovich was fired for refusing to meet a state mandate for all employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Anyone that has followed our story throughout the 2021 season knows that this group of any in the country was equipped for this week,” Dickert said. “When we got the bad news from Miami early in the week our guys didn’t flinch. They knew we were going to find something where we could put an end to this storied season we’ve had.”
The Chippewas get a Power Five opponent in Washington State, instead of a Boise team that shared the fifth-best conference record in the Group of Five’s Mountain West. Their most recent bowl victory was over Western Kentucky in the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl.
“To get an opportunity to play a final game with this group that is going to hold a special, special spot in my in my heart for the rest of my life,” said McElwaine, who was in the Mountain West at Colorado State before getting the Florida job seven years ago. “Look, we’re playing a really good team with the land of misfit toys. We’re going to have a blast doing it.”
NATIONAL RUSHING LEADER: Central Michigan running back RB Lew Nichols III leads the nation with 1,710 yards rushing in the freshman’s first full season. He averaged 209 yards in the final three games of the regular season and scored eight touchdowns. Nichols has 15 TDs for the season.
POTENTIAL MISMATCH: Washington State QB Jayden de Laura is facing one of the nation’s worst pass defenses. The freshman playing his first full season is averaging 250 yards passing per game with 23 touchdowns. The Chippewas are 117th against the pass, allowing an average of 266 yards per game.
PUNT RETURN MAGIC: Central Michigan’s Kalil Pimpleton is the only FBS player with two punt returns for touchdowns in the same game this season. He erased a 14-0 deficit by himself in a five-minute stretch that included a TD catch in a 42-30 victory over Western Michigan.
SUN HISTORY: The first meeting between the schools is the third Sun Bowl for the Cougars (they won the previous two). It’s the first Sun Bowl and 12th FBS bowl overall for the Chippewas. Washington State is 8-8 in bowl games.
REGIONAL TIES: Defensive starters for the Chippewas include senior safety Gage Kreski, a two-time Upper Peninsula Player of the Year at St. Ignace. For the 2021 season, Kreski has six tackles for loss along with an interception.