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Cotton Bowl preview: Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin

SportsDirect Inc.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic Storylines

1. Wisconsin will never know if it was one win away from earning a spot in the College Football Playoff, but there is no time for the Badgers to dwell on their missed opportunity. After losing the Big Ten title game and finishing eighth in the CFP standings, the Badgers head to Dallas for a Jan. 2 matchup against undefeated Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl. The Broncos are enjoying the best season in school history after going 17-21 during P.J. Fleck's first three seasons as Western Michigan coach, and attempt to complete their Cinderella run by knocking off a third Big Ten opponent this season (Northwestern, Illinois).

2. The Badgers rank fourth in the country in points allowed (15.5), while the Broncos are 16th nationally (19.5). Wisconsin's defense features standout linebacker T.J. Watt (10.5 sacks), whose brother J.J. is the former Wisconsin standout and current defensive terror for the Houston Texans. Western Michigan led the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense and ranked second in the country in turnover margin (plus-19) with Keion Adams (7.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss) leading the way.

3. The biggest challenge for the Western Michigan defense will be containing Corey Clement, the senior running back for Wisconsin who has rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of the last eight games. Clement recorded 1,304 rushing yards and 14 scores on the season, helping to take the pressure off the Badgers' inconsistent quarterbacks. Alex Hornibrook (58.1 percent completions, eight TDs, seven interceptions) missed the Big Ten title game loss to Penn State with a head injury but will be ready to play versus the Broncos, and will look to get the ball to Jazz Peavy (team highs of 43 catches, 635 yards, five TDs).

TV: noon, ESPN.

Radio: WDSM 710 AM

Line: Wisconsin -7.5

About Western Michigan (13-0, 8-0 Mid-American Conference)

The Broncos have an impressive set of "triplets" at the offensive skill positions, led by quarterback Zach Terrell (3,376 yards, 70.8 completion percentage, 32 touchdowns), who threw two of his three interceptions in the 29-23 victory over Ohio in the MAC title game.

From that point on, Fleck said he believed his team belonged on this stage, telling reporters: "We are 13-0. We're the best Group of Five team in the country. We didn't lose a game. Whoever they put on our schedule, we beat. There's two undefeated teams in the country - us and Alabama. There is no argument (that we belong in the Cotton Bowl)."

Fleck and company now must prove they can hang with the big boys as they rely on Terrell, Jarvion Franklin (1,300 rushing yards, 12 TDs) and All-American wideout Corey Davis (91 catches, 1,427 yards, 18 scores).

About Wisconsin (10-3, 7-2 Big Ten)

The Badgers' defense could have their hands full with a Broncos' offense that averages 43.5 points -- eighth-best in the country -- particularly if their performance against Penn State is any indication. 

Wisconsin gave up 384 passing yards and four touchdowns through the air against the Nittany Lions as their six-game winning streak came to an end in disappointing fashion.

Coach Paul Chryst acknowledged that finals provided a welcome distraction for his players as they try to forget about the Big Ten title game and added that "historically, (the Cotton Bowl) has been a big bowl, and anytime you get a chance to play in a bowl game that's assigned by the committee, and then when you find out you're facing one of two undefeated teams, it was exciting to me and I know to our kids, too. ... I think they're excited to play."

Prediction: Western Michigan 30, Wisconsin 20.

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