The Western Michigan Broncos look to cap their magical season with a Cotton Bowl win. In their way is a formidable opponent, the Wisconsin Badgers. At stake is national perception of the entire league, along with the national perception of just how magical of a season it is.
Of course that’s ridiculous, because one game shouldn’t move the national perception meter that much. However, that’s the sad reality of the college football world we currently live in. It doesn’t matter how many G5 victories over P5 opponents there have been this season, it all comes down to the one big game, four and a half weeks after the regular season. The long layoff is just one of many factors going into this game that is going to affect the play on the field. How they affect each team is purely speculation.
Along with the long layoff, there is the reality that some players will be more focused on the NFL draft than this game. I question how “up” for this game Wisconsin will be. After having an outside chance at the playoffs in their last game, they now are playing a game that really wont affect their national perception. At the start of the season, no one in Madison said, “Man, I really hope we knock off a G5 school in a bowl game to finish 6th instead of 11th. That would be RAD!”
On the flip side, Western Michigan is having a phenomenal season. Not a once in a decade type of season, a once in a lifetime season. A chance to finish undefeated, win a New Year’s 6 bowl game, and in the top 10 rarely happens in the MAC. In fact, it’s never happened. The last time a MAC team finished in the top 10, they played their bowl game on December 18th, in Mobile. Before that, it was December 27th, in Detroit. Both fantastic seasons, but pushed to the back pages of the national narrative to make way for “bigger” teams and games.
That wont be the case for this team. It’s playing on January 2nd, with a chance at a perfect season. The last MAC perfect season, Marshall beat exactly one ranked team, number 25 BYU, in the bowl game. Number 12 Western Michigan is taking on number 8 Wisconsin. Western Michigan has only managed to be ranked 9 times in the history of the AP poll. All nine were this season. To say this is unfamiliar territory is an understatement. How will Western deal with this unprecedented pressure? Only time will tell.
On the field, the Broncos will be facing, by far, the toughest team they have played this season. That being said, the Broncos are the more complete team.
With Wisconsin, it’s pretty straight forward. They want to run the football down opponents throats, and stop them from scoring with smash mouth defense. Predictable and effective. Think the Hulk.
Western Michigan is more like Superman. On offense, they have an extremely effective smash and dash running back duo in Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan. Zach Terrell is an extremely efficient quarterback that is throwing to the all time leading NCAA receiver, Corey Davis. On defense, Western Michigan has a solid and disciplined front 7 and a speedy and talented secondary.
There are two keys to this game for me. First and foremost, the Broncos have to deal with the Wisconsin beef up front? Western will have 8 guys in the box to try and stop the run. Those 8 guys will combine to weigh less than the 7 guys tasked with blocking them. Corey Clement, the Badger’s main running back is a 227 pound hunk of flesh that will break a big run if the defense takes bad angles. Arm tackles don’t slow him down.
Along with battering teams with Clement and company, the Badgers are very effective in hitting tight end Troy Fumagalli on play action pass. This is crucial to me. If there is a chink in the Western armor, it’s taking bad angles on runs and biting on play action passes. There is no scary deep play receiver on the Badgers, nor do they have a QB that could get them the ball if they did. If the Broncos can keep the Badgers in front of them, and make tackles, they will be fine. That’s much easier said than done.
The second key to me is who is going to step up for the Western Michigan offense? Wisconsin is very good at taking away what an opponent wants to do, and then their plan B. Corey Davis is fantastic, but I don’t see him going for 250 yards and 3 TDs to win the game. It’s highly unlikely that Bogan and Franklin run up and down the field against the Badger front 7. Can a Michael Henry or Carrington Thompson step up and win the game, or possibly Terrell with his legs?
Someone will have to go outside of their comfort zone and win the game for the Broncos. And that’s exactly what happens with special teams in special games to cap a special season.
On paper, Wisconsin has the edge for me. Along with the massive size advantage, they are deeper, and have played much higher competition this season. The two teams have combined for a 6-0 record against 3 common opponents. Wisconsin outscored them 129-20, while Western Michigan outscored them 93-52.
Luckily, games aren’t played on paper. I believe Western Michigan will be more motivated, and senior leadership will pull out the win for the Broncos.