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Cotton Bowl Pick

Western Michigan

vs.

Wisconsin

1/2/17

Every Group of Five school will have their eyes on this game, hoping Western Michigan can pull off an upset for all of the smaller schools. The Broncos went undefeated, yet were still ranked No. 15 in the final CFP rankings, seven spots behind their opponent Wisconsin. And so, for the Cotton Bowl (played in Dallas) the Badgers opened as -6.5 point favorites and moved to -7.5 points about a week before the game as seen at 5Dimes Sportsbook.

The reason for trepidation surrounding Western Michigan is mainly because their best wins were against mediocre Big Ten schools Northwestern and Illinois. And at that point, Northwestern was playing terribly. The Broncos carved through the MAC, so at least there's that, winning all but the conference title game by at least 14 points. The one thing going for them is that they have nothing to lose playing in this game and head coach P.J. Fleck will undoubtedly have a trick or two up his sleeve.

As for Wisconsin, they have everything to lose. The Badgers were a Big Ten title away from possibly making the Playoff and to lose to Western Michigan in a bowl would dampen what has been a successful season. Wisconsin has nice wins over LSU, Iowa and Nebraska with all three of their losses coming against top-10 teams in the nation. That's about all that needs to be said.

In like matchups, the Badgers won at Northwestern 21-7 in the middle of the season, while WMU won 22-21 in the opener. Wisconsin beat Illinois 48-3 toward the end of the year, while WMU won at the Illini 34-10 early in the season. And both teams blew out Akron.

The best matchup to watch in this game will be how the Western Michigan offense does against the immovable Wisconsin defense. Despite giving up 38 points in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers have one of the best defenses in the country, and that was seen throughout the season, despite some injuries.

As for the Broncos, they're filled with experience, but it's hard to get a read on them considering the level of competition they've played. Quarterback Zach Terrell had an incredible season completing 70.8% of his passes for 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions. In addition, he was near the top of the charts with 9.67 yards per attempt, conveniently just ahead of Penn State's Trace McSorley. And of course, Terrell has AP All-American Corey Davis (91 receptions, 1,427 yards, 18 TDs) to throw to, but it's also the WMU run game that makes this offense dynamic.

Jarvion Franklin had another solid season going for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Jamauri Bogan battled injuries and still ran for 865 yards and eight touchdowns. It's hard to compare an opponent to Wisconsin because Western Michigan just hasn't played a defense this good all season. Going back to 2015 when Western had most of the same players, just a year younger, they scored 24 points against Michigan State and 12 against Ohio State. That could be reason enough not to take Western, but they've had another year of experience since then.

Western's defense will have a challenge as well, although Wisconsin probably isn't any better than a few MAC offenses they've seen. The Broncos held a lot of teams in check, but against the best MAC teams like Toledo, gave up quite a few points.

Wisconsin's offense has been surprisingly potent in the last four games, scoring at least 31 points in each of them, but this is still a one-dimensional team. However, it is a boost that quarterback Alex Hornibrook (8 TDs, 7 INTs) will return for the bowl game after missing the PSU loss. Either way, the Badgers will run as much as possible with Corey Clement (1,304 yards, 14 TDs) as he had 292 carries (fifth-most in nation) on the season even after missing a game. WMU has a decent run defense allowing 151.2 rushing yards per game, but that will obviously be tested here.

The Broncos are 4-0 ATS in their last four vs. the Big Ten and 7-0 ATS in their last seven non-conference games, but 1-4 ATS in their last five neutral-site games. The Badgers are 5-0 ATS in their last five vs. the MAC and 11-3-1 ATS in their last 15 overall. Western Michigan won their first ever bowl game last season beating Middle Tennessee 45-31, while Wisconsin has won its last two against USC and Auburn.

Our Pick - Western Michigan +8.5

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