The Western Kentucky University football team is not lacking in big-game experience. Since last season, the Hilltoppers have played two No. 1 teams (at LSU, at Alabama) who advanced to the BCS National Championship Game and is about to play in its second National Football League stadium in two years when they take on Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at the Detroit Lions' home of Ford Field.
The only big-time experience the student-athletes are lacking is the bowl game experience, as the bowl game on December 26 is the team's first ever since making the transition to Football Bowl Subdivision four seasons ago. However, WKU is fortunate to have coaches on its staff that have had the bowl experience as a player to prepare the Hilltoppers, including Quarterback Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Nick Sheridan.
A 2010 Michigan alum, Sheridan was with the Wolverines when the team traveled to Orlando, Fla., to take on Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, a game that Michigan won 41-35.
Despite just being in his sophomore campaign for that bowl game, Sheridan can carry that experience into the Hilltoppers' preparations.
"I was a young player at the time, so I was just focusing on getting better, which I'm sure a lot of our young players are doing," said Sheridan. "The older players, they are just trying to go out with a win, so that is the focus you have as a player, and certainly as a coach you are trying to develop some of the younger players and send out the seniors on a right note. That is what we will try to do. It will be business as usual. We are getting ready to go play a game, so we will have to have a good week of preparation going into it."
Sheridan isn't the only coach on the staff with bowl experience, as Tight Ends Coach Stu Holt participated in four with the North Carolina Tarheels during his career from 1991-95. Holt earned two postseason wins, against Mississippi State in the 1993 Peach Bowl, 21-17, and against Arkansas in the 1995 Carquest Bowl, 20-10.
Helping prep senior quarterback and All-Sun Belt Conference honoree Kawaun Jakes for Holt's tight ends and the rest of the offense, Sheridan will be using the time before the bowl game wisely with a mixture of getting back to the basics and preparing for the Chippewas.
"We do have a little more time than normal to prepare for a game, so we started with fundamentals and try to work back into it because they are a little bit rusty," said Sheridan. "We just try to go back to the technique stuff you do in camp and spring ball, and once they are fresh, good to go and knock the rust off, you are just focusing on the game plan and trying to sharpen it up in the couple of days and couple of practices leading up to the game."
A Saline, Mich., native, Sheridan will get to use the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl as a homecoming, as his hometown is less than an hour away from Detroit. Sheridan commented that he was excited for the players to be in a bowl game, but was selfishly keeping an eye on this particular one so that he could see his family during Christmas."It will be a good number of people that will come to the game," said Sheridan on his family coming to cheer on the Hilltoppers. "It is the first game that I have had to ask other coaches for tickets, so there will be a lot of people there."