The 2017 Cotton Bowl is the enigma of the New Years Six games featuring undefeated Western Michigan taking on Wisconsin
The 2017 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic features undefeated upstart Western Michigan 13-0 (8-0) taking on Wisconsin 10-3 (7-2) in the Cotton Bowl. The game takes place in AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Monday at 1:00pm Eastern time and can be seen on ESPN.
Storylines Heading Into The Game:
Will The Group Of Five Success Continue?
Every year, there is that one BCS/New Years Six bowl game involving a team from a group of five conference. And every year, people figure that game will be a blowout. Yet six out of the last seven times a group of five team has played a power five team on New Years Day, the result has gone the way of the group of five “underdog.” Houston, Boise State, UCF, and Utah and TCU before they joined the Pac-12 and Big 12 respectively all racked up wins in these prestigious New Years Day bowl games.
A Season Of Near Misses
Wisconsin’s three losses on the season—Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State—all came by one possession. If two of those games go the other way, they could easily have found themselves in the playoff. This team was certainly talented enough to win any of those games, but you can play the “what-if game” with any of the top teams not in the playoff. Wisconsin now has one game remaining to end the season on a high note.
How good is Western Michigan?
No one was able to beat Western Michigan in the regular season, and so the team rightfully finds itself in the Cotton Bowl. However, the doubts about how good Western Michigan really is have merit as well. On one hand, they beat five teams that made Bowl games. On the other hand, they haven’t played a single ranked team all season and had multiple close calls. At the end of the day, you can only beat the teams you play, and Western Michigan has done that week in and week out, but the game against Wisconsin will certainly be their toughest test of the season.
+19 - Western Michigan ranks 2nd in the nation in turnover differential at +19. The one team ahead of them, Washington, and the team right behind them, Ohio State, are both in the Playoff, so that is not bad company for Western Michigan. Head Coach P.J. Fleck has preached the importance of ball security all season, and Wisconsin ranks 8th in the nation in takeaways, so quarterback Zach Terrell will need to be extra careful with the ball on Monday.
32.31 - Wisconsin is one of the most disciplined teams in the nation, averaging just over four penalties per game for only 32.31 yards, good for 4th in the nation. Wisconsin as a team is mediocre in 3rd and long situations, so they will need to keep their penalties down to avoid finding themselves behind the sticks needing to convert.
34:18 - Western Michigan also ranks 4th in the nation, averaging 34:18 of possession each game. In a game where they are a clear underdog, it’s vital that they keep the game close for as long as possible, staying within striking distance until the 4th quarter. Both Terrell and Fleck know that they are in no rush on offense and as long as they are methodical, they score should remain close throughout the game.
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan - Corey Davis is a machine, it’s as simple as that. Davis currently ranks 2nd all-time with 51 career receiving touchdowns, twelve more than notable Western Michigan alum Greg Jennings. Teams know that Terrell will be looking Davis’ way early and often, yet there is little they can do to stop him.
He has the frame of an NFL receiver, with great moves after the catch to elude defenders. He will certainly be a handful for Wisconsin all day and he can expect to see many double teams thrown his way.
T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin - You might recognize that last name. Yes, T.J. is the youngest brother of former Wisconsin and current Houston Texans stalwart J.J. Watt. He is making a name for himself this season though, and he leads the Badgers with 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Watt will be vital for Wisconsin in stopping the Western Michigan rushing attack that has accounted for more than 3,000 yards on the ground this season.
Why Western Michigan Wins
This Western Michigan team doesn’t know what it feels like to lose. They’ve won in a multitude of different ways, be it by blowout, from behind, or in a nail-biter, and at the end of the day, they still have a zero in the loss column. Only Alabama can make the same claim among FBS teams. They have more talent on both sides of the ball than people realize. No one really knows what to expect from Western Michigan, and that uncertainty can give them an advantage. If they can put up points early and feel like they belong, they will only gain confidence as the game goes on.
Why Wisconsin Wins
Wisconsin has won every single game this season they have been favored in, and they are favored again against Western Michigan. They play mistake-free football and do all the little things well. Nothing about this team sticks out as especially impressive, but they are very solid all around. Wisconsin is a more talented team than Western Michigan and has actually played tough, ranked opponents. They are battle-hardened and will not want to lose to a Western Michigan team they are heavy favorites against.
This game is hard to predict simply because no one really knows what to expect from Western Michigan. They are a fairy-tale team looking for a storybook ending, but Wisconsin doesn’t want to be a part of their happy ending. It’s a game that features the experience of Western Michigan against the talent of Wisconsin, and I’m going with Wisconsin. They have shown time and time again this season the ability to win they games they are supposed to.
Wisconsin 31-13 Western Michigan
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