Western Kentucky's Nick Holt insists Boca Raton Bowl isn't about him

Interim head coach says he's not auditioning for full-time job against Memphis

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor

BOCA RATON, Fla. - Nick Holt was getting his defense ready to take on Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl when he learned that Jeff Brohm was leaving Western Kentucky for Purdue.

One day after the Hilltoppers defeated Louisiana Tech to claim their second consecutive Conference USA championship, Western Kentucky accepted a bid to play in the South Florida bowl game. Less than 24 hours later, Brohm resigned and Holt was named interim head coach.

"I'm very fortunate to represent Western Kentucky University and the Hilltopper family," Holt said Wednesday during a news conference in Boca Raton.

Holt becomes the second first-time head coach to make his debut in the Boca Raton Bowl. Toledo offensive coordinator Jason Candle was promoted to head coach before last year's game after Matt Campbell left for Iowa State.

Unlike Campbell, who was handed the reigns permanently, Holt enters the game with the "interim" tag still on his title. Still, the fourth-year defensive coordinator insists he's not auditioning for the job.

"It's not about that. It's not about me," Holt said. "It's about our kids."

Holt said he doesn't expect much to change from a team that's playing in its third consecutive bowl game.

"It's status quo for us," Holt said. "We're going to do things like we always do."

The Hilltoppers (10-3) have at least 20 reasons to be excited about playing in Florida. That's how many players on Western Kentucky's roster hail from the Sunshine State.

Among them is junior quarterback Mike White from Fort Lauderdale. The Conference USA newcomer of the year transferred to Western Kentucky last year after two seasons as the starter at South Florida.

White follows Brandon Doughty, who ended his six-year career in the top 25 in NCAA history for career passing yards, passing touchdowns and completion percentage.

The success that the last two Western Kentucky quarterbacks have had is a testament to the fertile recruiting ground of South Florida.

"Historically, through way back in the '70s and '80s, Western Kentucky University football, they've always come down here and recruited and recruited heavily, and it's been a very, very important state for us," Holt said.

That's why winning the Boca Raton Bowl is so important for two teams competing with traditional Sunshine State powers Florida, Florida State and Miami and rising powers Central Florida and USF.

"This area is incredible with the type of student-athletes that come from here, and it's one that we always want to have a presence, you know, in South Florida and be able to attract the finest that we can get," first-year Memphis head coach Mike Norvell said.

Through the first two seasons of the Boca Raton Bowl, the participating teams have entered the game with a pair of conference championships and a cumulative record of 42-8. Not bad for a bowl game still in its infancy.

"I think that any kind of new bowl would look at the matchups that we've had and probably would feel very blessed," Boca Raton Bowl executive director Doug Mosley said. "But I think that probably says a lot about the area that we're in."

Memphis and Western Kentucky bring high-powered offenses to Boca Raton.

The Hilltoppers are second nationally in scoring offense, No. 5 in passing offense and No. 7 in total offense. They also boast the fourth-best rush defense in the nation.

Western Kentucky has won seven straight games -- including a 52-3 victory over Florida Atlantic at FAU Stadium -- and hasn't scored less than 40 points in a game since a 31-30 overtime loss to Vanderbilt in September.

Likewise, Memphis ranks in the top 35 nationally in points per game, yards per game and passing yards per game.

"I don't want to get spoiled by any means," Mosley said. "I hope that we can continue to get these great teams like these two to keep coming back here year in, year out."

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