The Orlando Sports Foundation (OSF) released Sunday the Georgia State Panthers will take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the third-annual AutoNation Cure Bowl benefitting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). The matchup is set to kickoff on Dec. 16 at Camping World Stadium at 2:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
“We are excited to welcome the Georgia State Panthers and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl,” President of the Orlando Sports Foundation Mack McLaughlin said. “We are looking forward to a high-scoring game, with two high-profile players: Florida-grown Mike White, who is the number four passer in the nation, and GSU sophomore Penny Hart, who ranks eighth in the nation in receiving yards.”
Georgia State (6-5, 5-3 Sun Belt Conference) and Western Kentucky (6-6, 4-4 Conference USA) are meeting for the second time on the gridiron. The two programs were members of the Sun Belt Conference in 2013 and met in Atlanta, Ga., with the Hilltoppers posting a 44-28 victory.
“The Cure Bowl is about bringing teams together to find a cure for cancer,” AutoNation Cure Bowl Executive Director Alan Gooch said. “The AutoNation Cure Bowl is more than a game. It’s a celebration of the women who are living with breast cancer today and creating awareness for those who will face it in the future.”
The AutoNation Cure Bowl directly supports BCRF, who has received a total of $2.3 million donation from the first two games put on by ODF. Local researcher Dr. Annette Khaled at the UCF College of Medicine has received a majority of the funds.
Georgia State (6-5, 5-3 Sun Belt Conference) has earned its second bowl berth in three seasons at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level. The Panthers are returning to the Cure Bowl, where it made its first bowl appearance in the inaugural game back in 2015.
First-year head coach Shawn Elliott has helped the Panthers finish fourth in the Sun Belt and capture five road victories, ranking second in the nation.
“We are thrilled to be going to the AutoNation Cure Bowl. This is a great opportunity and a reward for our student-athletes, our fans and our university,” Elliott said. “It’s an exciting time to play in our second bowl game ever and have the potential to win our first bowl and set the school record for wins.
“This game supports a tremendous cause, and there is no better bowl destination than Orlando. We are looking forward to going down there with great support and playing an exciting game against a quality opponent in Western Kentucky.”
Sophomore wide receiver Penny Hart is one of the nation’s top receivers, leading the Sun Belt with a school-record 73 receptions for 1,094 yards with eight touchdowns. Hart aided the Panthers to the 2015 Cure Bowl after earning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and All-American accolades.
Distributing the ball to Hart is senior quarterback Conner Manning, who averages 260.9 passing yards per game with 13 touchdowns. The balanced offense of the Panthers features running back Glenn Smith, who is one of three active FBS players with 1,000 rushing, 1,000 receiving and 1,000 return yards in his career.
“It has been an exciting season for our program under first-year head coach Shawn Elliott,” GSU Director of Athletics Charlie Cobb said. “We are extremely excited to be returning to the AutoNation Cure Bowl and bring our program to back to Orlando. Our players have worked hard all season long and this is the ultimate reward. We encourage all of our alumni, fans and students to join us in Orlando as we celebrate the second bowl game in program history.”
The GSU defense has a two-time all-conference selection in Chandon Sullivan, who is one of 13 finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy as the top football scholar-athlete in the nations. A team-high four interceptions have been grabbed by sixth-year senior safety Bryan Williams.
Head coach Mike Sanford has Western Kentucky bowl eligible for the seventh-consecutive season. The Hilltoppers finish in a three-way tie for third in the east division of CUSA.
“We are thrilled to accept the invitation to the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl and represent Conference USA as we go for our fourth-straight bowl victory,” said WKU Director of Athletics Todd Stewart. “It is a testament to the hard work of so many, and another terrific bowl destination for our coaches, staff, student-athletes and fans.”
The Hilltoppers are one of only eight teams in the nation with the opportunity to win four bowl games in a row.
Redshirt senior quarterback Mike White is set to finish his career in the Sunshine State. The Pembroke Pines, Fla., native is the fourth-ranked passer in the nation, amassing over 3,826 yards and 24 touchdowns. White has also been invited to the Senior Bowl.
The high-powered offense that averages 26.2 points per game is fueled by a trio of receiver in senior Nacarius Fant, redshirt senior Deon Yedler and redshirt sophomore Lucky Jackson that have registered over 550 yards of offense.
The Hilltoppers defense is led by redshirt junior Joel Iyegbuniwe with 103 tackles and nine tackles for loss. A team-best two interceptions have been registered by junior Drelle Greene and senior Joe Brown.
Tickets are currently on sale at CureBowl.com. In addition to the game, ticket holders will have access to the Cure Village and the AutoNation Tailgate Part and Concert featuring the platinum recording artist Andy Grammer.
Orlando Sports Foundation / Cure Bowl