Welcome to the first, and likely the last Famous Toastery Bowl. Never heard of it? Think the Bahamas Bowl moves to the Carolinas. That is exactly what happened. The Bahamas Bowl has been around since 2014. However, the 15,000-seat Thomas Robinson Stadium was undergoing renovations that did not finish in time. Thus the game will be played at Jerry Richardson Stadium on the campus of UNC-Charlotte. And the Famous Toastery as the title sponsor? It is a breakfast/lunch eatery headquartered in Charlotte with more than 20 locations in the southeast. Full disclosure time; it is also the favorite weekend breakfast eatery in Charlotte for the author of this article, (and no we get nothing in exchange for saying that).
The game matches two former Conference USA rivals. Old Dominion is now in the Sun Belt. The two schools have faced each other seven times in the past with Western Kentucky leading the all-time series, 6-1.
With the change of venue, there will be sun in both the Bahamas and Charlotte. But it is going to be about 20 degrees cooler in North Carolina.
Game/Teams: The Famous Toastery Bowl; Western Kentucky vs. Old Dominion
Location: University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Day/Date/Time; Monday, December 18; 2:30 pm Eastern
Who’s In and Who’s Not; Meet Old Dominion
Like most bowl games these days, you have to check the roster because it rarely bears any similarity to the regular season lineup.
The biggest news is that ODU’s All-American linebacker Jason Henderson is going to miss the game with an injury. He led the entire nation in tackles with 170. The Monarchs have 13 players in the portal. Most of the losses will not impact this game other than creating some depth challenges. But receiver Javon Harvey, who led the team in touchdown receptions went to the portal and has already committed to Texas A&M. Defensive back Terry Jones, and his 100 tackles on the season, are also in the portal.
Quarterback Grant Wilson, with or without his top receiver, would welcome relying on the running game. He took 51 of the 61 sacks given up by the Monarchs offense this season. That helps explain a touchdown: interception ratio that was “only” 16:7. He will have his two running backs who account for a combined 1,000 yards. Kadarius Calloway, (594 yards) and Keshawn Wicks (550 yards) are both expected to play Monday.
While ODU’s season was very up and down, they did get wins over Louisiana, App State, and Georgia Southern, all of whom made it to post-season bowls. They also lost by just a field goal to P5 school Wake Forest, and to James Madison, a top 25 team.
Old Dominion has one bowl win in program history. Ironically enough it was in the Bahamas Bowl in 2016.
Meet Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers have 15 players who went into the portal. Of particular note were Quantavious Leslie, Vincent Murphy, and Wes Dorsey. All were starting offensive linemen contributing a combined 2,500 career snaps. WKU has also lost starting defensive back Upton Stout who has already committed to Michigan.
As of publishing time, it is believed that starting quarterback Austin Reed will be playing. He has just over 8,000 passing yards in his two years at WKU. But having played at DII West Florida before that, he is NFL draft-eligible. No official announcement has been made as to his future plans, but there has also been no announcement as to his opting out of the bowl game. His presence makes a huge difference. The backup, Turner Helton is eight for eight passing for 82 yards on the entire season.
And Western Kentucky is not going to change its offense regardless of who the quarterback is. The Hilltoppers have the second-fewest rushing attempts in the country this season with 322.
This is Western Kentucky’s fifth straight bowl game under head coach Tyson Helton. The Hilltoppers have won three of the previous four bowl appearances.
It is expected that the 2024 version of the Bahamas Bowl will return to the islands.