The Chippewas finished in fourth place in the MAC's West Division, also finishing with a 4–4 conference record. After claiming a 6–6 mark in the regular season, the Chippewas accepted an invite to the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
The Hilltoppers finished in fifth place in the Sun Belt Conference with a 4–4 record. After claiming a 7–5 mark in the regular season, the Hilltoppers accepted an invite to the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
This was the first bowl game in school history for the Hilltoppers, being one of two teams making their bowl debut this season (along with fellow Sun Belt member the Louisiana–Monroe Warhawks).
On December 7, Hilltoppers head coach Willie Taggart accepted the vacant head coaching position at South Florida. Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry was named as interim head coach for the bowl game. Although WKU hired Bobby Petrino as Taggart's permanent replacement three days later, it announced that Guidry would still coach in Detroit.
This was Guidry's second stint as an interim head coach at an FBS program. He had previously been interim coach at Miami (OH) in the 2010–11 bowl season, coaching the RedHawks to a win in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl. His coaching stint at Miami was most noted for his locker-room speech to the RedHawks just before the bowl, a 90-second reflection on the history of the program that went viral. The win made the 2010 RedHawks the first team in FBS history to follow a 10-loss season with a 10-win season.