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2017 Cotton Bowl: Better Know Wisconsin

The WMU Broncos face the Badgers January 2

Big Ten Championship - Penn State v Wisconsin Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

On January 2, Western Michigan will represent not only the Mid-American Conference but the entire Group of Five in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. MAC fans and WMU fans may know of the opponent, the Wisconsin Badgers, but it cannot be understated what a significant challenge this game and this opponent will be for the Broncos. Like so many things in life, be careful what you wish for.

Quick Hitters:

  • Wisconsin is making their first appearance in the Cotton Bowl, ranked 8th, with a 10-3 record
  • With a win, Wisconsin will stretch their bowl win streak to three games, after wins over Auburn and USC in the Outback and Holiday Bowls respectively following the last two seasons.
  • This will make the fifth all-time meeting between the Broncos and Badgers, with Wisconsin holding a 3-1 series lead. Their last meeting was in 2000, a 19-7 Wisconsin win. The Broncos win in the series came in 1988, a 24-14 win over a Badgers squad that would finish 1-10 on the season.

Wisconsin’s 2016 campaign has been more of the same for the Badgers, as they have won 80 games over the prior 8 seasons. For those that struggle at math, that’s an average of 10 wins per year. You’re welcome. They’ve also been to 15 straight bowl games, and are 17-4 in their last 21 games. So, you might say that Wisconsin has had the kind of sustained success that programs the country over are all shooting for.

The 2016 Campaign

To say that Wisconsin’s 2016 campaign prepared them for a big stage would be an understatement. The Badgers faced six ranked opponents on the year prior to this game, all of whom have been in the AP Top 10. Seven of their 2016 opponents, including WMU, enter bowl season in the Top 25. The opponents’ combined record for the season is 124-60.

Their three losses came to Michigan (on the road), Ohio State, and Penn State (B1G Championship) by a combined 21 points, with one game (OSU) going to overtime. Their ranked wins came against LSU, Michigan State, and Nebraska. Wisconsin also dabbled in MACtion by hosting Akron, a 54-10 Badgers win.

The size of JerryWorld shouldn’t bother the Badgers, as they have played here before, the 2015 season opener versus Alabama. This is also their third game in an NFL venue this season, opening the year at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, and closing the year in the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The X’s and O’s

Hustle Belt will be bringing you the offensive and defensive breakdowns as we draw closer to game time, but when Wisconsin has the ball, you can expect it to be typical Wisconsin. The Badgers, much like mating earthworms, do it on the ground. In six of their last eight games Wisconsin has topped the 200-yard mark, and their leading running back, senior Corey Clement, leads the conference in yards per game at 108.7. The offensive line is massive, averaging 6’6” and 315 lbs across the starting unit. That sort of size Western Michigan has not seen this season. Wisconsin also leads the nation in time of possession, so there’s that.

When Western Michigan has the ball, it’s best on best as the high-powered WMU attack faces a defense that is arguably the best they will have faced all season. Bronco QB Zach Terrell will have his work cut out for him as he faces a secondary that leads the entire P5 group in interceptions on the season. The Badgers defense is also ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency, and third down efficiency. That’s a pretty solid resume, should you be unfamiliar with the ins and outs of football.

Players to Know

  • RB Corey Clement: As mentioned prior, Clement has been a rushing beast this season, leading the conference in yards per game and reaching the end zone 14 times. He’s also a possible bellwether for the Badgers, as they are 14-2 when he tops 100-yards.
  • LB TJ Watt: Numerous All-American honors have come to Watt, and not just because of his NFL standout (and former Badger) brother JJ. That’s largely because of his 10.5 sacks, the 7th best season in Wisconsin history.
  • CBs Sojourn Shelton & Derrick Tindal: The corner pair has combined for seven interceptions and 23 pass break ups on the season. It’s safe to assume that WMU’s Corey Davis will see one or both for most of the afternoon.

The Man Who Wears the Headset

Simply put, Paul Chryst is Wisconsin. Originally from Madison and a former Wisconsin quarterback, his homecoming after a three-year stint as the head coach at Pittsburgh is off to a smashing start with a 20-6 record. Prior to his Panther head gig, he was a 7-year Wisconsin offensive coordinator. His career record as a head coach is 39-25 and 2-1 in bowl games.

The Site of Record/Social Media

Do you like websites about sports, Timmy? Of course you do. You’re here, after all. For your Wisconsin needs leading up to the Cotton Bowl, make sure you check out Bucky’s Fifth Quarter here. You can follow them on Twitter at @B5Q.

The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic kicks off on January 2 at 1PM (ET) on ESPN. On the call for the WorldWideLeader is .Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard in the booth with Allison Williams on the sideline. Stay tuned to Hustle Belt for more pregame news and notes.