2017 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Preview

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, December 31st, 2016


By James McAnnaly

W. Michigan (9-4) vs.Wisconsin (8-5)
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Monday, January 2, 2017
1:00 P.M, ESPN
Line: Badgers -7.5 / 57.5

Boise State over Arizona. Houston over Florida State. Western
Michigan now gets its shot in the Cotton Bowl to get the Group of Five
to 3-0 during the College Football Playoff era. The Broncos are the
nation’s other unbeaten team this season, clearing all 13 hurdles
toward a first MAC championship since 1988. Included in the perfect
season were wins over two Big Ten teams, Northwestern and Illinois.
P.J. Fleck has been the energetic, youthful face of this best-ever
season in Kalamazoo, but will a Power Five school be his new employer
by the time this game kicks off?
Wisconsin will say all the right things, but this is a very tough
consolation prize for Paul Chryst’s team. The Badgers were 30 minutes
away from a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth opposite USC, but they
collapsed to Penn State in Indianapolis. Now, they’ll face a MAC team
in an unequivocal no-win situation.
It was a solid overall season in Madison that began with a
stirring upset of LSU at Lambeau Field. It could have been so much
better. All three of the Badgers’ losses were by a touchdown, and Ohio
State and Penn State were eminently winnable games.
It’s been quintessential Wisconsin in 2016, spearheaded by one of
the nation’s top defenses and the Corey Clement-led ground game. The
Badgers are giving up only 15 points per game, though the late
collapses to the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions will nag the players
and staff alike. Clement must be productive running behind the
assertive Badger O-line, because quarterback play has been iffy. With
a month off, though, redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook will be back
after sitting out the Big Ten title game.
Fleck’s offense has been dynamite, averaging more than 43 points
per game. QB Zach Terrell has thrown 32 touchdown passes and just
three picks, Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan have combined to rush
for more than 2,100 yards and Corey Davis is one of the premier
playmaking receivers in America.
But just because the Broncos score in bunches doesn’t mean the defense
has been an inconsequential bystander in the 13-0 campaign. Western
Michigan leads the MAC in scoring D and takeaways, while senior DE
Keion Adams is a flash coming around the edge. Fleck’s Broncos are
confident and motivated, with the speed to play with teams from bigger
Offense: Western Michigan.
The Broncos are explosive and diverse. Meanwhile, the Badgers
have struggled to move the ball, even on the ground at times.
Defense: Wisconsin.
This is the best defense Western Michigan will see all season.
OLB T.J. Watt is a terror rushing the passer, and the secondary has 21
picks while allowing just a dozen touchdown passes.
Special Teams: Western Michigan.
The Badgers will need to pay special attention to No. 4,
sophomore Darius Phillips, who has returned a punt and a kickoff for
six this season.
Coaching: Push.
Two very different approaches and personalities, but Fleck and
Chryst are a couple of terrific coaches surrounded by capable staffs
of assistants.
Western Michigan. In the all-important assessment of motivation
at this time of year, the Broncos are the hands-down winners.
This is a seminal moment in the history of Western Michigan
football, while Wisconsin could be caught California dreaming.
Matchup To Watch
Davis vs. Wisconsin CBs Derrick Tindal and Sojourn Shelton
There’ll be plenty of important matchups in Arlington, but none
with more relevance and intrigue than when Terrell drops back to
throw. Davis is an elite receiver, with a shot to be chosen in the
first round of next April’s NFL Draft. The Badgers are No. 11
nationally in pass efficiency defense, but Tindal, Shelton and the
rest of the secondary will operate with something to prove after Penn
State’s Trace McSorley burned them for four touchdowns in the Big Ten
Championship Game.
Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan Prediction
Western Michigan can play with Wisconsin, particularly if the
Badgers don’t arrive in the Cotton Bowl with a laser focus. The
Broncos are confident, athletic and eager to add an exclamation point
to this memorable season. The Badgers, though, will be a tall order,
because of their physicality at the line of scrimmage. Aided by the
return of Hornibrook, Clement will enjoy enough daylight to burn the
Broncos for a couple of long jaunts. And Watt and the defense will
frustrate a Western Michigan team that labored with the MAC’s best D,
Ohio, in the league title game. The Broncos will compete from
end-to-end, especially if Fleck is still on the sidelines. Wisconsin,
though, will hold on to spoil their perfect season.
Pick: Badgers 27 Broncos 23


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