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Roundtable: Game balls, plays of the game from Wisconsin’s Cotton Bowl win

The Badgers appear in fine shape entering next season.

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Cotton Bowl - Western Michigan v Wisconsin Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome back to another session of the B5Q roundtable.

The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the previously undefeated Western Michigan Broncos 24-16 in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Monday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Wisconsin (11-3) held Western Michigan (13-1) to season lows in total yards and points while receiving solid production from its redshirt junior tight end and outgoing redshirt senior quarterback. Not to mention, UW won the turnover battle against one of the nation’s best programs in turnover margin.

B5Q assembled its team of writers for a two-part discussion on the win and what it means to a successful 2016 season. Part one discussed the positives and negatives from the New Year’s Six bowl victory.

GAME BALLS: Who’s your MVP(s) for the Cotton Bowl?

Owen Riese: I’m gonna give it to Corey Clement. He didn’t have a ton of big plays, but in typical 2016 Clement form, he didn’t lose the Badgers yards and set the tone early with some big runs. One of the major leaders on this team, he finished his season off well.

Side note: After the game, lost in the pomp and circumstance of the moment, Clement walked alone to the end zone and was kneeling on and kissing the “W” in the end-zone paint and crying. You could really tell how much this win meant to him, capping off his career in Madison.

Jon Beidelschies: Let’s give it to the secondary. After getting decimated by Penn State, they finally tightened things up on the back end. The defense looked rough much of the day, but Western Michigan had multiple drives of more than six minutes and somehow only managed two touchdowns and a field goal. The Badgers kept the talented WMU wideouts in front of them all day. When the Broncos got down 14 points and needed a quick strike, they made them eat nine minutes of clock, only scoring on a desperation throw and spectacular catch by Davis. This should be vindication for a unit that must have been smarting after the Big Ten championship game loss.

Drew Hamm: The Badgers have weaponized Anthony Lotti, and the rest of the Big Ten should be nervous. His punt that was downed at the three-yard line led to T.J. Edwards picking off Zach Terrell—but, uh, I’m not picking the punter as the MVP. Let’s give it to Edwards and also my buddy Tank who drove to Hudson, Wis., to pick up a case of Moon Man for the game.

Jake Kocorowski: I’m a broken record here, but have to give it to tight end Troy Fumagalli. He recorded six catches for 83 yards and a key touchdown in the fourth quarter. There’s a trust the former walk-on has with his quarterbacks. Four of his receptions went for first downs, and four also came on third-down throws. He did drop a possible touchdown before halftime that would have put the UW lead back up to 14, but he atoned for that with his leaping eight-yard grab early in the fourth quarter, and also started and ended the game off hot with two receptions of more than 20 yards on third-down conversions.

Honorable mention goes to Bart Houston. After a rollercoaster of a career, Houston finished his last game as a Badgers quarterback the right way: going 11-of-12 for 159 yards. His only incompletion was Fumagalli’s drop late in the second quarter. After being benched earlier this season, he worked his way into the quarterback rotation at Iowa and improved from there. I’m excited to see what Alex Hornibrook will do in 2017 and beyond, but Houston showed in the last few weeks that he could handle being a main player in the offense.

PLAY OF THE GAME: What play(s) held the most significance?

Owen: I think probably the easy ones are the catches and pick, but honestly I’m going to say the dropped touchdown by Fumagalli, the only incompletion of the day for the Badgers (which is bonkers, by the way). If he catches that, the route is on, and it’s 21-7 at half and the Broncos are playing catch up in a big way.

Jon: True freshman Anthony Lotti’s punt that stuck inside the five-yard line early in the fourth quarter. It pinned WMU back against its own end zone, which led to a rushed throw that landed right in Edwards’s chest for an interception. Western Michigan had started to get some momentum and that sequence turned the game around. Lotti struggled a bit this year, particularly early in the season, but his punt made a huge difference in the win.

Drew: Stupid Jon picking the stupid play that I wanted to stupid talk about. *kicks dirt and walks away with hands in stuffed in my pockets* Bart Houston’s 16-yard completion on third-and-15 to George Rushing that set up the end-of-the-half field goal was a big play. It got Andrew Endicott into comfortable field-goal range and extended the lead going into halftime.

Jake: I’ll play Captain Obvious again and say Edwards’s interception. Edwards has been a consistent force in an ever-changing inside linebacker rotation due to injuries, and again led the team in tackles for the season—his second consecutive year doing so—and in the Cotton Bowl (10). Lotti’s punt was the “People’s Elbow” to Edwards’s “Rock Bottom;” that is, the set-up to the “finisher.”

Edwards’s interception at a critical time set up Wisconsin’s offense deep in Western Michigan territory, with Fumagalli’s touchdown extending the lead again to two scores.

What does the win mean for Wisconsin’s 2016 season as a whole?

Owen: It caps off a great year and with the losses relatively small, it definitely breeds optimism for the future of the Badger program. Paul Chryst has the team and program in the right direction, the fence has been put back up around the state (the top five and six of the top seven prospects in the state according to 247 Sports are currently committed to Wisconsin) and the Badgers are hungry for more national respect, which they are earning seemingly every week.

Jon: The Cotton Bowl was a great statement win and critical for both the program’s and the Big Ten’s national perception. This was a smart, no-drama team all season long and the victory mirrors that. The Badgers came in, handled business, stayed the course when things got rough and got the job done.

With a neutral-site win against LSU, a road win against Michigan State (then-top 10), home wins against Nebraska and a pretty decent Minnesota squad, plus a New Year’s Six victory against an undefeated conference champion, this season is on paper better than just about anything Bret Bielema or Gary Andersen managed short of the 2012 and 2013 Rose Bowl seasons, which had generational talent at quarterback and running back, respectively.

I think the program is in better shape than it was under Bielema and Andersen. The Badgers have now won three straight bowls and a couple of other high-profile games. There is a mental resiliency about this team that was lacking under Chryst’s predecessors. I wonder how a Bielema-coached team would have handled Western Michigan’s counter-punching—after seeing Arkansas melt down at the Belk Bowl, I wonder if the Razorbacks would have wilted against the Boatrowers.

It’s hard to believe that coming into this season there was legitimate concern that Wisconsin might not even make a bowl. It’s really a testament to this squad and the coaching staff that they performed at a higher level than anyone thought they could.

Drew: The 2016 Wisconsin Badgers will be ranked in the top-eight at the end of the season. That was an amazing sentence to type. National perception of the Badgers is trending upward and multiple big wins (and close losses) against high-profile opponents have undoubtedly helped the Wisconsin #brand. I am interested to see if there is an uptick in recruiting and preseason rank heading into next year.

Jake: Wisconsin showed it could match up with everyone it played and have a significant chance to win in every single contest. Many expected the Badgers to have seven or eight wins this season, and it’s hard to blame the pundits with the questions the program faced at key positions and looking on paper at the daunting schedule.

The win puts a cherry on top of a successful, overachieving season, one that could have been even greater if not for second-half collapses against Ohio State and Penn State. A berth in the New Year’s Six bowl showed that the College Football Playoff committee thought highly of the Badgers, and there’s something special brewing in Madison.

It also means Wisconsin, under the leadership of Chryst and his coaching staff, will be in every regular-season game it plays moving forward. The players bought in to his “one game at a time” mentality and quickly turning the page after both wins and losses. The program has taken on the shape of its head coach, and you can expect in future years the focus and drive this team displayed.