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Cotton Bowl Matchup Analysis - Western Michigan Broncos vs. Wisconsin Badgers

NCAAF Cotton Bowl Odds

No MAC team has ever knocked off a power conference team in a major bowl game before, but the Western Michigan Broncos aren’t your typical MAC champion. The Broncos have already defeated two Big Ten teams this season, Illinois and Northwestern, and are the most polished team to come out of the MAC in years. If the Wisconsin Badgers aren’t careful, they could become the third straight power conference team to lose to a non-automatic qualifier.

Broncos vs. Badgers
Date and Time
: Monday, January 2, 2017, 1 p.m. ET
Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Cotton Bowl Odds at Wisconsin -7.5, O/U 52
Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin TV Coverage: ESPN

When Western Michigan Has the Ball…

Zach Terrell was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this season and under his stewardship, the Broncos were one of the most successful teams at converting scoring opportunities into points. Less than 1 percent of his passes were interceptions and his carefulness paid dividends for this team throughout the year. Western Michigan was 7th in the nation in points per trip inside the 40 according to S&P+, averaging 5.34 points every time it crossed the 40-yard line.

There’s no doubt as to who Terrell’s favorite target is. Corey Davis hauled in 18 of Terrell’s 32 touchdown passes and averaged an impressive 15.7 yards per catch on the season. He caught a ball of 30 yards or more in 8 games this year and that explosiveness made this a very effective passing attack.

Terrell will be tested by a secondary that has been one of the top units in the Big Ten. Wisconsin picked off opposing quarterbacks 21 times this season and allowed them to complete just over 52 percent of their passes. However, the secondary was just exposed by Trace McSorley in the Big Ten Championship Game and this unit can be beat.

When Wisconsin Has the Ball…

The Badgers want to run, run, and run some more. The passing game has been lackluster this season with neither Alex Hornibrook or Bart Houston inspiring much confidence. The two combined to throw 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season and ended up completing almost as many passes to tight ends and running backs as they did to wide receivers during the season.

Instead, Wisconsin is going to pound the rock as much as possible with Corey Clement. Clement ended up carrying the ball almost as many times as Hornibrook and Houston teamed up to throw it this season and had five straight 100-yard games with a touchdown to close out the year. He isn’t an explosive back at 5’11 227 lb., but can be a workhorse and handle as many carries as you want to give him.

Western Michigan DC Ed Pinkham has had a month to prepare for Wisconsin’s running game and needed all the time he could get. The Broncos have by far the worst defensive front seven of any team playing in a New Year’s Six Bowl, and the defensive line has been manhandled up front at times. That unit was able to shut down the run against Ohio in the MAC Championship Game, but Wisconsin has a lot more talent than the Bobcats do.

The X Factor

No coach in college football is a better motivator than PJ Fleck and he will have his team amped when they take on Wisconsin. Many expected Fleck to have left Kalamazoo by the time the Cotton Bowl rolled around, but he decided to spurn Purdue and a couple other mid-tier AAC jobs for at least one more season.

That’s great news for the Broncos in this one as there’s no way this team would have been as ready to take on the Badgers with someone else rowing the boat. Fleck has been with this group for four seasons now and his boundless enthusiasm has been the catalyst for the school posting its best record in school history.

Wisconsin has a solid coach as well in Paul Chryst, but he is no Fleck. While it’s more up-in-the-air whether or not Chryst and Wisconsin will be focused, there is no doubt that Western Michigan will be.