Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin Cotton Bowl: College Football Spread

Ricky Rothstein | Updated Dec 22, 2016


In the NFL, they don’t play the divisional-round playoff games after the conference championship matchups. Yet in college football, three major bowl games, the Cotton, Rose and Sugar, are staged two days after the College Football Playoff national semifinals, which are Dec. 31. Go figure. It’s an all-Midwest affair in the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl — which isn’t actually played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas — as No. 15 Western Michigan faces No. 8 Wisconsin.

Western Michigan Broncos vs. Wisconsin Badgers

Point spread: Badgers -7.5

Over/under: 53.5/p>

Date: Monday, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET

Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Western Michigan Broncos

Under the current College Football Playoff Top 25 format for deciding the New Year’s Six bowl games, the highest-ranked team from the Group of 5 conferences — the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt — earns a spot in one of those bowls. Theoretically a Group of 5 team could make the national semifinals, but that would take a minor miracle to happen because of weak strength of schedule.

You can only beat the teams on your schedule, and that’s what the No. 15 Broncos (13-0) did in easily the best season in school history. Young coach P.J. Fleck has become a national name with his enthusiasm and catchy “Row The Boat” mantra that has been trademarked by the school. Many thought Fleck would be hired by a Power 5 program at some point in December as he was linked to Purdue and Oregon, but he’ll be back in Kalamazoo next year. WMU’s program was a mess when he took over in 2013 and the Broncos were 1-11 that year. Now only them and No. 1 Alabama are unbeaten.

Western Michigan beat two Big Ten teams on the road early in the season in Northwestern and Illinois and was rarely tested in Mid-American Conference play on the way to the school’s first MAC title since 1988.

I would argue that WMU has better skill-position players than Wisconsin does. Quarterback Zach Terrell and receiver Corey Davis are the two best in school history at their positions. Terrell completed 70.8 percent of his throws this year for 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Davis is likely going to be a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft and caught 91 balls for 1,427 yard and 18 TDs. He is the all-time FBS leader with 5,205 receiving yards and fourth with 325 catches. And don’t forget about running back Jarvion Franklin, who rushed for 1,300 yards and 12 scores. This is a high-powered offense.

Wisconsin Badgers

The No. 8 Badgers (10-3) were expected to be in a bit of a rebuilding season after losing a lot of talent off teams that had combined for 21 victories the previous two years. Wisconsin wasn’t ranked in the preseason Top 25 but served notice immediately that it was a contender with a 16-14 upset of No. 5 LSU in the season opener at Lambeau Field. UW’s only two losses in the regular season were to then-No. 4 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State, both by a touchdown and in overtime vs. the Buckeyes.

Wisconsin won the Big Ten West Division and the right to face No. 7 Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game. UW led 28-7 late in the second quarter but would fall apart in the second half and lose 38-31. A stunning development for a team that was among the nation’s best defensively and had given up more than 20 points just once previously. UW allowed 15.5 ppg, fourth nationally. It was No. 2 against the run.

Starting QB Alex Hornibrook missed the Penn State game with a concussion, but the redshirt freshman is good to go for the bowl game. Considering the Badgers were 6-0 when using both Hornibrook and senior Bart Houston in the same game, expect both to play against Western Michigan. It really doesn’t matter who is at QB as the Badgers are an old-school ground-and-pound Big Ten team behind one of the nation’s biggest offensive lines — junior left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, was an All-American and a potential first-round NFL draft prospect. It’s the same story every year in Madison in that regard.

Cotton Bowl Prediction

Western Michigan and Wisconsin haven’t played since 2000. There were three common opponents this year. WMU beat Northwestern by 1, Illinois by 24 and Akron by 41. The Badgers beat the Wildcats by 14, the Illini by 45 and the Zips by 44. This game means everything to the WMU program. How motivated will the Badgers be after losing the Big Ten title game? Take the 7.5 points as Western has covered its past seven non-conference games. Go over the total.