Western Kentucky and Georgia State will meet for the second time in four years – but oh how things have changed for each.
The Cure Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 16 will feature the two teams a long way away from the first meeting between them Nov. 2, 2013. Back then WKU was coached by Bobby Petrino and finished that season 8-4. The Panthers were led by Trent Miles and were in the doldrums of an 0-12 year.
And that 2013 game was played in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta – a venue which no longer exists.
Both State and Western were members of the Sun Belt Conference in 2013. That’s where State has remained after WKU joined Conference USA in 2014.
The Hilltoppers have won a bowl game every year since and claimed two league championships. The Panthers went 9-38 under Miles who was fired after the 2016 season – but State did play in the 2015 Cure Bowl losing 27-16 to San Jose State.
Now coached by Shawn Elliott, State has one of the nation’s better run defenses by allowing just 149 yards per game and a stellar passing attack with 270.2 yards per game. Senior quarterback Conner Manning, a transfer from Utah, has thrown for 2,870 yards and 13 touchdowns, sophomore receiver Penny Hart has 1,094 receiving yards and eight TD receptions and senior running back Glenn Smith is dangerous both on the ground and in the return game.
Georgia State ended its regular season with home losses to Appalachian State and Idaho, respectively.
The Hilltoppers started their season 5-2 before losing four of their last five. They last played Nov. 24 and lost 41-17 at Florida International – a game they led 17-13 in the third quarter.
First-year coach Mike Sanford has the nation’s ninth-best passing offense but the nation’s worst rushing offense. Senior quarterback Mike White has the third-most passing yards of any QB with 3,826 and junior linebacker Joel Iyeigbuniwe is 44th nationally with 8.7 tackler per game.
A win for the Tops would give them seven wins in a season for the seventh straight year and a fourth bowl victory in a row. The Panthers have never won seven games in a single season.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop