Western Michigan Broncos (13-0 SU, 9-4 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (10-3 SU, 9-3-1 ATS)
Cotton Bowl Classic
Date/Time: Monday, January 2, 2017 at 1PM EST
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: WMU +7.5/WIS -7.5
Over/Under Total: 52.5
The Western Michigan Broncos take on the Wisconsin Badgers in the Cotton Bowl on January 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. For WMU, it's been a big season where they went unbeaten in 13 games—a great season for any team, even one that plies its trade in the MAC. And while they had some good wins in that record, a win over a really good Wisconsin team that nearly won the Big Ten Championship would really give them a lot of credibility. And while playing Western Michigan might seem an anticlimactic way to end the season for the Badgers, one should look for them to be aiming for a positive end to the season in what is still an important Cotton Bowl spot.
Western Michigan head coach PJ Fleck has taken this team a long way since he began 1-11 back in 2013. After two 8-5 seasons, they put it together with a 13-0 campaign in 2016. Fleck's recruiting prowess and veteran leadership on the team have come together and they are the kings of the MAC. To begin the season, they scored a pair of road wins over Big Ten teams Northwestern and Illinois, before turning their sights on the MAC where they romped. Their 29-23 win over Ohio in the MAC title game was the only close game they had in-conference. They were pretty consistent and along with Wisconsin who also covered the spread nine times this season, were solid at the betting windows in 2016.
Western Michigan benefits from a balanced offense that is 8th in the nation is scoring. They are led by 4-year starter Zack Terrell. It was his best season yet with over 70% completions on 3376 yards with 32 touchdowns and just three picks. He also ran in 6 touchdowns. Aerially, he depends on a receiver with a ton of talent in Corey Davis, who had 1427 yards with 18 receiving scores. Michael Henry and Carrington Thompson have also been big weapons through the air. On the ground, Jarvion Franklin is the top dog with 1300 and 12 touchdowns, with Jamauri Bogan adding 865 yards and 8 touchdowns. Backs Fabian Johnson and Davon Tucker have also each added 4 rushing touchdowns. There is a lot of room for a lot of players to excel in this offense. And they've been consistent.
Giving up fewer than 20 points a game, the WMU defense has also done its job. They held Northwestern and Illinois to a combined 31 points, while limiting some powerful MAC offenses to very little. They are strong in the middle with Robert Spillane and Caleb Bailey. Darius Phillips has been a major playmaker on this defense. Phillips scored three times on the season. Making life hard on quarterbacks are Keion Adams and Eric Assoua. And a lot of the points they did give up came with games already out of hand. We'll now see if Western Michigan is ready to hang in there with the big boys of college football and Wisconsin would certainly qualify.
The Badgers have kept it together really well this season. In their first four games of the season, they scored what were at the time considered two upsets over LSU and Michigan State. But after coming up short to Michigan and Ohio State in a pair of close games, it looked like they would be a good, but not excellent Big Ten team. Six straight wins later, they found themselves in the Big Ten title game, up 28-7 in the second quarter against a red-hot Penn State team. The fact that it didn't work out shouldn't detract from a Badgers program that really got their act together this season. On offense, we saw a return to the run-heavy approach that was once their staple. And on the other side of the ball, they were one of the best in the country, their collapse against the Nittany Lions notwithstanding.
On offense, the Badgers are led by quarterback Bart Houston, who came in for Alex Hornibrook several games ago and will likely start with Hornibrook having gone down with a concussion. Then again, one can't be too sure, with Hornibrook having some extra time to further recuperate. On the ground, they have a real player in Corey Clement, who ran for over 1300 yards with 14 touchdowns. He gets a big boost from Dare Ogumbowale and Bradrick Shaw on the ground. Through the air, Jazz Peavy and Robert Wheelwright are the two most productive receivers, with big tight end Troy Fumagalli also a major weapon. Granted, offense might not be their forte and they could only manage a field goal in the entire second half against Penn State in their last game, but it's a group that can do damage.
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Wisconsin's defense is a really tough unit, having allowed an average of just 15.5 points a game, while being the second-ranked rushing defense in the entire country. Considering some of their opponents, that's a pretty remarkable set of rankings. Against Michigan and Mich St., they allowed a combined 20 points. Until playing Penn State, only Ohio State had surpassed 20 points against the Badgers. Among their better players are linebackers TJ Edwards and TJ Watt. D'Cota Dixon has made plays in the secondary all season, as have Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal. One has to ask, if Michigan only scored 14 against this bunch, what will Western Michigan be able to come up with?
Could this be a letdown spot for the Badgers? On one hand, they've been out of the CFP running in a realistic way for a few months, but playing Western Michigan might not command the respect it should—or enough for us to cover a spread. The Broncos went through a lot to get here and no one should underestimate them. But their defense might not be as effective at this level and the same could probably be said about their offense. I'm laying the points with some trepidation and taking the Badgers.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Wisconsin Badgers minus 7.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Broncos vs. Badgers Cotton Bowl game from home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!