EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – After a hectic week of changes when it came setting up the 88th Annual Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, both Central Michigan and Washington State are ready to take the field and play some football on Friday morning.

Washington State is set to make their third Sun Bowl appearance.

The Cougars have experienced nothing but success when playing in the Sun Bowl, as the program has won its’ two previous Sun Bowl match-ups against Purdue (33-27, 2001) and Miami (20-14, 2015). 

The Cougars enter this year’s Sun Bowl with a defense to be feared. WSU’s defense led the Pac-12 and was fourth in the country with 27 takeaways including 13 fumble recoveries, which was good enough for third-most in the country.

On the other side of the ball, it will be Pac-12 Offensive Freshman Player of the Year and Polynesian College Player of the Year Finalist quarterback Jayden de Laura who will lead the Cougars’ offense.

In de Laura’s first full season under center, the Honolulu, Hawaii native led the Pac-12 with 2,751 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 250.1 passing yards-per-game. 

“You’re going to see one of the most explosive offenses in the country,” said WSU head coach Jake Dickert early Thursday morning. “You’re going to see one of the best young quarterbacks, I believe, there is out there. So you’re going to see our guys play hard, they are going to play fast, they’re going to play together.”

This is the Cougars’ 17th overall bowl game appearance and are looking for their ninth bowl game win in program history.

On the other side, Central Michigan (8-4) rolls into the Sun Bowl with one of the best offenses in the Mid-American Conference.

They’ll be led by the nation’s leading rusher, Lew Nichols III.

This season, Nichols was named MAC Offensive Player of the Year, finished the regular season with a best-in-the-nation 1,710 rushing yards and has scored 15 rushing touchdowns.

His 142.5 rushing yards per game also topped the nation during the regular season and he is No. 1 with 2,010 all-purpose yards.

The Chippewas enter the game as seven-point underdogs according to the Caesars Sportsbook.

CMU hopes to use the underdog mentality Friday to make a name for themselves in the national spotlight against Washington State.

“We aren’t the most-talented (team), but we’ve got a bunch of guys who care about each other and an organization that cares about each other,” said CMU head coach Jim McElwain during his Wednesday press conference. “To get an opportunity to go play a final game with this group – it’s going to hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.”

This is the first time WSU and Central Michigan will face off on the gridiron.

Both teams will be looking to show out in their final game of the season at the 2021 Tony The Tiger Sun Bowl.

Kickoff is set for December 31 at 10 a.m. (MT)