WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS (13-0)
vs WISCONSIN BADGERS (10-3)
AT&T Stadium – Arlington, TX
Kickoff: Monday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Line: Wisconsin -8, Total: 52.5
Can Zach Terrell and Corey Davis do damage against an elite Wisconsin defense?
This year’s Cotton Bowl features one of the more intriguing matchups of the bowl season, a showdown between Group of Five upstart and offensive juggernaut Western Michigan and Big Ten powerhouse and defensive-minded Wisconsin. The Broncos went 1-11 in head coach P.J. Fleck’s inaugural 2013 season, won eight games in each of the next two seasons, and now enters bowl play alongside Alabama as the lone two undefeated teams in the country at 13-0 (9-4 ATS). Their closest call along the way came in the season opener, a 22-21 upset win on the road over Northwestern (WMU +3). Their second-closest call was in their most recent game, a precarious 29-23 victory over Ohio in the MAC Championship as 16.5-point favorites. Wisconsin also got its biggest win of the year in the opener, a 16-14 victory over then-No. 5 LSU (WIS +12.5). And like the Broncos, their worst performance—at least defensively—came in their conference title game, a 38-31 loss to Penn State (PSU +3) in which they led by 21 points in the first half. With a conference schedule that included close losses to Michigan (14-7; WIS +11.5) and Ohio State (30-23; WIS +10) in back-to-back weeks, they played one of the toughest slates in the nation. And like Western Michigan, they beat Northwestern on the road (21-7; WIS -6). They enter Monday’s game 10-3 and 9-4 against the spread. Over the last five seasons, favorites of 3.5 to 10 points that allowed no more than 100 rushing yards in their last game (WIS) are 22-47 ATS in games involving two teams that outrush their opponents by at least 50 yards per game. Since 1992, teams that have won three out of their last four (WIS) are 29-7 Under against the total against teams that have won at least eight of their last 10 games (WMU) on neutral fields when the total is between 49.5 and 56. QB Alex Hornibrook will be “available” for the Badgers, although he will reportedly not start.
Despite the fact that he does not play in a Power Five conference, few would argue that Western Michigan QB Zach Terrell (70.8 CMP%, 3,376 yards, 32 TDs, 3 INTs; 73 carries, 235 yards, 6 TDs) hasn’t been one of the best quarterbacks in all of college football this season. He is 20th in the nation in passing yards, fourth in yards per attempt (9.7), 10th in touchdown passes and fourth in passer rating (180.6). No other quarterback to have thrown at least 18 touchdown passes this season has thrown as few as three interceptions—and, again, he has thrown 32 touchdowns. He had his roughest outing of the year in the MAC championship game, completing 19 of 31 passes for 290 yards, two touchdowns and his second and third interceptions of the year. A week earlier, however, he picked apart one of the conference’s best teams in Toledo, completing 19 of 25 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. He has thrown multiple touchdowns in 10 games this season, and thrown at least three in eight of those. He’s joined in the offense by a legitimate top tier NFL prospect in WR Corey Davis (91 catches, 1,427 yards, 18 TDs), who some have as the No. 1 receiver in the upcoming draft. Davis is ninth in the country in receiving yards and second in touchdown receptions, and he leads the MAC in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. WRs Michael Henry (61 catches, 760 yards, 4 TDs) and Carrington Thompson (38 catches, 605 yards, 6 TDs) join him as dangerous weapons out wide. RB Jarvion Franklin (241 carries, 1,300 yards, 12 TDs; 21 catches, 255 yards, 2 TDs) is third in the conference in rushing yards, but RB Jamauri Bogan (163 carries, 865 yards, 8 TDs) has been the feature back as of late. He has 57 total carries in the Broncos’ last two games, while Franklin has 19. Defensively, WMU is 25th in the country with 353 yards allowed per game and 16th with 19.5 points allowed per game. CB Darius Phillips was named First Team All-MAC as a defender and the conference Special Teams Player of the Year as a punt and kickoff returner.
The quarterbacking duties for the Badgers this year have been split between Hornibrook (58.1 CMP%, 1,243 yards, 8 TDs, 7 INTs), a freshman, and senior Bart Houston (65.9 CMP%, 1,086 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs). Houston began the year as the starting quarterback, although Hornibrook began taking snaps as early as the second game of the season. He became the starter in the fourth game, but Houston started taking snaps as a secondary QB in the seventh game of the season. An unfortunate concussion made Hornibrook unavailable for the Big Ten Championship, a game in which Houston completed 16 of 21 passes for 176 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions—an accurate but unremarkable evening. The only time either quarterback threw multiple touchdowns in a game this season was when Houston threw two against an overmatched Akron team in Week 2, so neither has a particularly high ceiling as a playmaker (or the team would have chosen one full-time). Houston’s numbers are generally better, though, as his 144.7 rating trumps Hornibrook’s 123.4, but Hornibrook had the difficulties of playing full games against Michigan and Ohio State. (Then again, Houston played the full game against LSU.) The Badgers’ best wide receiver is Jazz Peavy (43 catches, 635 yards, 5 TDs), who would likely have bigger numbers on a team with a better quarterback. Aside from him, WR Robert Wheelwright (33 catches, 436 yards, TD) and TE Troy Fumagalli (41 catches, 497 yards, TD) are the most likely guys to be targeted on any given passing play. The offense revolves around the running game, which is spearheaded by First Team All-Big Ten RB Corey Clement (292 carries, 1,304 yards, 14 TDs). In a conference known for run-heavy offenses, Clement is second in the league in carries, second in rushing yards and third in rushing touchdowns. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in five straight games, and he matched a season high with 164 rushing yards in the Big Ten Championship and set a season high with 43 receiving yards, as well. The Badgers have one of the country’s best defenses, ranking seventh with 303 yards allowed per game and fourth with 15.5 points allowed per game. LBs T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel were named to the All-Big Ten First and Second teams, respectively.