A traditionally interesting football matchup pits excellent offense against excellent defense. It’s even better when both teams are also capable on their “weaker” side of the ball. Throw in pinch of the old David vs Goliath, and it could make for a very dramatic contest.
The aforementioned elements are part of this year’s Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, which kicks off at 1 p.m. ET Monday, Jan. 2. The game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. That is the extravagant home field of the Dallas Cowboys and seats 71,998 (105,000 with standing room).
Just one year ago, Western Michigan . . .
A perfect 13-0 record, however, can open a few more doors, especially if it includes wins over two Big Ten teams and a MAC championship. Given those 2016 accomplishments, along with its #12 poll rank, calling the Broncos’ matchup with #8 Wisconsin (10-3) a David vs. Goliath situation might be a stretch.
Here’s more on the contest and both teams:
1 p.m. ET – Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 ----- AT&T Stadium, Arlington Texas
#8 Wisconsin Badgers (10-3) vs #12 Western Michigan Broncos
► Wisconsin owns a 3-1 advantage in meetings with Western. The Broncos only win came in 1988 as the eventual MAC champions claimed a 24-14 victory at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. Current UW head coach Paul Chryst was on that Badger squad. So was current Western head coach P.J. Fleck, who filled in as punt returner that day, recording six fair catches.
► Wisconsin won the last meeting with WMU, 19-7. It was the season opener and despite starting a new era without Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dane in the backfield, UW was ranked No. 5 in the nation.
The Badgers had suspended 11 players for three games and 15 others for one game related to extra benefits from a local shoe store. Wisconsin led by just a field goal in the fourth quarter, but it was able to add a touchdown and safety for the final margin.
► The Badgers three losses all came in Big Ten play, with two setbacks occurring on consecutive outings. UW lost to at #4 Michigan on Oct. 1 and then fell to #2 Ohio State Oct. 15. The other loss was in the Big Ten championship as #8 Penn State pulled out a 38-31 victory. The three defeats were by all by seven points, including an overtime loss against Ohio State.
► Wisconsin faced six Top Ten teams in 12 regular season games. It defeated #5 LSU (16-14) in the season opener and blasted #8 Michigan State (30-6) in Week Four. The Badgers also nipped #7 Nebraska, 23-17 (OT), in late October.
► The Badgers have now posted six seasons with at least 10 wins over the last eight campaigns.
► UW is looking for its third consecutive bowl win, having defeated Auburn in the Outback Bowl following the 2014 season and USC in last year’s Holiday Bowl.
► Defense, in many respects, has been Wisconsin’s calling card. The Badgers rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense (4th, 15.5 ppg), total defense (7th, 298.3 ypg), rushing defense (2nd, 96.9 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (9th, 106.8). Wisconsin also ranks No. 3 in third-down defense (26.8%) and has allowed opponents to score touchdowns on just 42.9% of their red-zone trips, the No. 5 mark nationally.
Sophomore linebacker T. J. Edwards leads the team with 79 tackles, including 8.5 tfl. Watt is the team leader in tackles for loss with 14.5.
► The Badgers have recorded 21 interceptions on the season, the most of any Power Five program and their highest total since logging 22 picks in 2002 (when Leonhard set UW’s individual single-season record with 11 INTs). n With senior S Leo Musso (5), junior S D’Cota Dixon (4) and senior CB Sojourn Shelton (4), Wisconsin is the only Power Five program in the country to have three players with at least 4 interceptions this season.
► Wisconsin leads the nation in time of possession (35.20 mpg). Western Michigan is not far back, ranking No. 4 nationally with a 34:21 mpg average.
► More than half of the possessions by Wisconsin opponents this season have lasted two minutes or less.
► UW is second nationally with just 3.3 penalties per game.
► The Badgers running game has picked up considerably since mid-season. They topped the 200-yard rushing mark just once (294 vs Akron) over the first five games. Over its last eight contests, Wisconsin eclipsed 200 yards six times. It also had broken 200 yards against Northwestern before losing 37 yards on team rushes designed to run out the clock.
► Redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook and senior Bart Houston have formed a quarterback tandem that has proven successful for the Badgers this season. n Houston started the Badgers’ season opener vs. LSU at Lambeau Field, in addition to non-conference games vs. Akron and Georgia State, with Hornibrook serving as the backup. n Hornibrook then earned his first starting nod at No. 8 Michigan State and went on to start all nine conference games for UW before missing the Big Ten Championship Game due to injury.
►The Badgers have been at their best — and unbeaten — when both quarterbacks have played, a rotation that began at Iowa on Oct. 22. With both seeing action, the pair combined to complete 62% of their passes for 937 yards and 6 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions over the final six games of the conference season, all wins. n In Hornibrook (1,243) and Houston (1,086) the Badgers have a pair of 1,000-yard passers in a season for the first time since 2001, when both Brooks Bollinger (1,257) and Jim Sorgi (1,096) hit that mark.
► Jazz Peavy leads all Badger receivers with 43 receptions for 635 yards with five TDs. He averages 14.8 ypc and 48.8 ypg. Tight end Troy Fumagalli (6-6, 248) is next with 41 catches for 497 yards (1 TD). Senior Rob Wheelwright owns 33 receptions for 436 yards (1 TD).
► Senior Andrew Endicott has converted 12 of 18 field goals, with a long of 46 yards. Anthony Lotti averaged 37.5 yards per punt, with a long of 60 and two boots over 50 yards.
► The Broncos knocked off two Big Ten teams during the four-game non-conference slate. WMU edged Northwestern 22-21 Sept. 3 in the opener and blasted Illinois 34-10 two weeks later.
► Western 43.5 ppg offensive production ranks eighth nationally. The Broncos broke 50 points three times and had 41 or more points in eight outings.
► As the wins mounted, WMU became a serious candidate for emerging as the top Group of Five team, which earns a trip to one of the Top Six bowl games. The Ohio Bobcats nearly brought that dream crashing down in the MAC championship game Dec. 2. A late interception, however, ended Ohio’s final drive and Western Michigan prevailed, 29-23.
► P.J. Fleck became the youngest FBS head coach when he took over Western Michigan’s struggling program. His first year at the helm resulted in a 1-11 record (1-7 MAC). However, his energetic and dynamic personality, as well as professional skills, put the Broncos on a winning curve by year two. They went 8-5 (6-2 MAC) in both 2014 and 2015 before this season’s undefeated run.
► Fleck’s “Row the Boat” team mantra has made its way onto WMU uniforms and has been embraced by Bronco fans cheering at games.
► Fleck’s 2016 recruiting class was the MAC’s top-rated group for the fourth consecutive year.
► Fleck won MAC Coach of the Year honors this year and is a finalist for several other coaching awards. Wide receiver Corey Davis was named MAC Offensive Player of the Year and subsequently drew All-American honors. Quarterback Zach Terrell was tapped as the MAC’s Vern Smith Leadership Award winer, while Darius Phillups earned Special Teams Player of the Year as a kick returner.
► Western Michigan led the conference with 14 All-MAC selections, of which four earned first team honors.
► A key to the Broncos success has been a balanced offense that can take advantage of running or passing opportunities. WMU ranks 14th nationally in total offense (496.7 ypg), 21st in rushing (237.0 ypg) and 40th passing (259.7 ypg).
► Western Michigan’s ground game features a two-headed weapon: Jarvion Franklin (6-1, 228, Jr) is a power back who has deceptive speed. He leads the team with 241 carries for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. Franklin has also registered 21 receptions for 255 yards and two scores. Jamauri Bogan (5-7, 187, So) is a quick back who totaled 865 yards and eight touchdowns on 163 trips.
► Senior QB Zach Terrell has completed 247 of 349 passes (70.8%), good for 3,376 yards and 32 TDs, with just three interceptions. He has been sacked 14 times. Both the interceptions and sacks are career lows, while the TDs are a career high.
► Terrell’s awards/accomplishments include the 2016 Campbell Award, the top scholar-athlete award in the country for football.
► Terrell’s top production this season came in a 38-0 rout of Buffalo. He completed 29 of 37 for 445 yards and four touchdowns.
► Two of Terrell’s three interceptions on the year came in the MAC championship tilt against Ohio.
► Wide receiver Corey Davis was 10th in the nation with 109.8 receiving yards per game. His 18 TDs was second only to Carlos Henderson of Louisiana Tech (19).
► Michael Henry and Carrington Thompason have combined for 99 receptions and 1,365 yards with 10 TDs.
► Linebacker Robert Spillane was ninth among MAC defenders with 8.08 tackles per game (105 total). He also made what might have been the Broncos biggest defensive play of the year when he intercepted an Ohio University pass with 51 seconds left in the MAC Championship game.
► Senior defensive end Keion Adams has registered 17.0 tackles for loss. Junior CB Darius Phillips was one of four MAC players with four interceptions, but the only one to return three for touchdowns.
► The Broncos defense ranks 14th nationally, allowing 19.5 ppg. It is 27th in total defense (353/0 ypg), 47th against the run (151.23 ypg) and 30th in defending the pass (201.8 ypg).
► Western Michigan ranks second nationally in turnover margin, (+1.46 per game), while Wisconsin is ninth ((+0.85 per game).