Date: Monday, December 18, 2023
Time: 5:45 PM ET
Location: Jerry Richardson Stadium - Charlotte, NC
Betting Line: Western Kentucky -4.5
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
2023 Record: 7-5
Form: Winners of three of their last five, two-game winning streak
Key Players: QB Austin Reed, WR Malachi Corley, DB Kendrick Simpkins
The Story So Far: After being tabbed as the preseason favorites to win Conference USA, the Hilltoppers fell short of expectations. However, they still proved to be exceptionally potent, securing their fifth consecutive bowl berth.
Austin Reed and the offense scored a very respectable 29.8 points per game. Reed was also CUSA’s top passer, throwing 31 touchdowns and for over 3300 yards. Receiver Malachi Corley also topped the league in receiving TDs with 11. The big struggle for the offense will likely be along the offensive line, as several of their starters are currently in the transfer portal.
Defensively, WKU was big-play focused, potentially to a fault. The Tops forced 26 turnovers, but allowed the second-most yards per game in CUSA.
Old Dominion Monarchs
2023 Record: 6-6
Form: Won their final two games to secure bowl eligibility
Key Players: LB Wayne Matthews, QB Grant Wilson, RB Kadarius Calloway
The Story So Far: ODU are back in the postseason after a one-year absence.
Of note, All-American linebacker Jason Henderson has been ruled out of the bowl game due to injury. However, linebacker Wayne Matthews is still in the picture after putting up 121 tackles this season - the second-highest total in the Sun Belt behind Henderson’s 170.
Perhaps ODU’s biggest weaknesses are at the line of scrimmage. The Monarchs defense had 15 sacks this season, while their offensive line allowed an alarming 61 sacks.
Despite that, Fordham transfer QB Grant Wilson had a solid first year at the FBS level with 16 passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. The backfield combo of Kadarius Calloway and Keshawn Wicks have combined for eight rushing touchdowns and 1116 yards this season.