Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan Prediction, Cotton Bowl Preview

Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan prediction and game preview. Projecting who wins the Cotton Bowl between the Badgers and Broncos.

Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan – Cotton Bowl Preview

When: Monday, January 2 – 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
Broadcast: ESPN

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.

What To Know About Wisconsin

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.

What to Know About Western Michigan

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 conferences.


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.

Intangibles: 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 Betting Odds

Spread: Wisconsin -7.5
Over/Under: No line as of post

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.

Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan Score Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Western Michigan 23

Campus Insiders Staff Picks

Brian Stultz: Wisconsin
Jeff Bartl: Wisconsin
Rich Cirminiello: Wisconsin
Robert Judin: Western Michigan
Pete Fiutak: Wisconsin

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