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2017 Cotton Bowl: Predictions for Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan

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NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Cotton Bowl - Wisconsin Media Day Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s a matchup of strength vs. strength Monday at AT&T Stadium in the Cotton Bowl Classic, where the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers’ defense will take on the high-powered offense of the No. 15 Western Michigan Broncos.

UW will look to rebound after a woeful defensive performance in the Big Ten championship against an undefeated WMU team that leads the nation in turnover margin (plus-19) and is looking to make an unprecedented splash by upsetting a Power Five program in a New Year’s Six bowl.

There’s a lot of talk about the Western Michigan offense that averages almost 497 yards per contest. The Broncos’ attack features quarterback Zach Terrell (70.8 percent completion percentage, 3,276 yards, 32 touchdowns, three interceptions) and FBS all-time receiving yards leader, wide receiver Corey Davis (91 receptions, 1,427 yards, 18 touchdowns). They’re second in the nation in third-down conversions (54.2 percent), third in red-zone efficiency (95.4 percent) and eighth in points per game (43.5).

They’ll have to face a motivated Badgers’ defense that wants to atone for its collapse in Indianapolis in early December, an outing where they gave up 384 yards passing and four touchdowns to Trace McSorley and Penn State. Despite that blip in an otherwise sterling season, that squad ranks in the top 10 in the FBS in the following categories: rushing defense (second, 96.9 yards per game), scoring defense (fourth, 15.5 points per game), total defense (seventh, 303 yards per game) and pass efficiency defense (ninth, 106.8). Wisconsin counters Western Michigan’s stats on third-down conversion by only allowing 26.8 percent (third in the nation) and opponents have only scored touchdowns on 42.9 percent of their red-zone trips (fifth).

Offensively, Wisconsin faces a Western Michigan defense that allows over 151 yards per game on the ground. In six of the last eight games, Wisconsin has rushed for over 200 yards against four teams in the top 50 in the nation in run defense: 236 yards against Ohio State (13th), 210 yards against Minnesota (14th), 223 yards against Nebraska (43rd) and 241 yards against Penn State (49th). The Badgers also added over 160 yards against Iowa (48th) and 190 against Northwestern (31st).

Western Michigan held Big Ten opponents Northwestern and Illinois to a combined 126 yards rushing earlier this season (123 vs. NU, three vs. UI), but the Broncos also gave up over 200 yards rushing five times.

Both offenses love chewing up time on the clock, as UW leads the nation in time of possession (35:21) with Western Michigan fourth in averaging over 34 minutes.

The Broncos will test the Badgers with Davis and their passing attack, and could also pose a threat in their rushing attack (over 237 yards per game). Yet WMU hasn’t faced a defense like the Badgers that is solid on all three levels—despite the secondary’s missteps against Penn State.

Wisconsin’s rushing attack should establish itself and allow the three-headed attack of Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Bradrick Shaw to eat up chunks of yardage.

The Broncos will put up a huge fight in the biggest game in program history, and people have questioned if the Badgers will have a hangover from their Big Ten championship loss.

I just don’t see that. This team, from fall camp on, has taken on the personality of its head coach in preparing one opponent at a time and turning the page after each game. Wisconsin will come prepared, amped up to redeem itself, and end the year with a victory to give UW its fourth 11-win season since 2010.

B5Q predictions:

Jake Kocorowski: Wisconsin 27, Western Michigan 23

Owen Riese: Wisconsin 34 Western Michigan 24

Dylan Deich: Wisconsin 28, Western Michigan 17

Drew Hamm: Iceberg 28, Boat 20

Ryan Mellenthin: Wisconsin 24, Western Michigan 10

Andrew Rosin: Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 17

Local media predictions:

BadgerNation.com’s Ben Worgull: Wisconsin 31, Western Michigan 21

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jeff Potrykus: Wisconsin 34, Western Michigan 24

Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway: Western Michigan 23, Wisconsin 21

National media predictions:

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin 36, Western Michigan 24

Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman: Western Michigan 20, Wisconsin 17

SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s S&P Projection: Wisconsin over Western Michigan 32.2-24.3 (Win Prob. 67.7 percent)

Sports Illustrated: Six of seven writers pick Wisconsin