Jarvion Franklin

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CFT Previews: Cotton Bowl Classic

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WHO: No. 15 Western Michigan (13-0) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3)
WHAT: The 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
WHEN: 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
THE SKINNY: MAC champion Western Michigan ran the table this season, ended the year as one of two FBS undefeated programs with Alabama being the other. That was still far from good enough to get a crack at the College Football Playoff, but P.J. Fleck has his upstart program rowing their boats to the Cotton Bowl to take on Wisconsin.

The Badgers hope quarterback Alex Hornibrook is healthy enough to stay in the game after getting roughed up against Penn State in the Big Ten championship game. Regardless of who plays quarterback, the real focus of the Wisconsin offense should fall on the running game with Corey Clement working behind a steady offensive line that should have an advantage on the line of scrimmage.

It should go without saying that Wisconsin will be, by far, the best defensive team Western Michigan has faced all season long, led by T.J. Watt. The Broncos may feel confident having two wins already this season against Big Ten opponents (Northwestern and Illinois), but the Badgers beat those two teams as well by a combined 59 points, as opposed to Western Michigan’s combined 25-point margin of victory over the Wildcats and Illini. Wisconsin’s defense did get exposed in the Big Ten championship game by Penn State’s big play offense though, and it should be expected Western Michigan will attempt to find those some cracks with Zach Terrell looking to find future NFL receiver Corey Davis for some big gains.

Western Michigan may be overmatched in the trenches, but the running game should be a key for the Broncos regardless. Jarvion Franklin rushed for 1,300 yards this season, but finding room to run against the Badgers defensive front will be his toughest challenge yet, especially if Wisconsin comes out looking to rebound from a poor showing in the Big Ten championship game.

Which brings us to the all-important yet completely unpredictable motivation factor. It would not be fair to take anything away from Western Michigan’s effort should things go well, but what exactly is the motivation level for Wisconsin? The Badgers were the favorite in the Big Ten championship game and lost steam to go from playing in the Rose Bowl (or potentially the College Football Playoff?) and now are paired up with this year’s Group of Five representative in the bowl lineup. Wisconsin does not seem like the kind of program that will go through the motions, and Paul Chryst may not strike you as a rah-rah go-get-em type of coach, but he will have the Badgers ready to go on the big stage in Arlington.

There is a bit of an experience factor at play as well, as a majority of this Wisconsin team has already played in AT&T Stadium. Wisconsin opened the 2015 season in this stadium against Alabama, so the initial wow-factor of playing in this venue may not be a concern. Western Michigan, however, is playing on this kind of stage for the first time in program history. Will that be an intangible?

THE PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 20

WR Corey Davis sets FBS record as No. 21 Western Michigan remains undefeated with victory over Toledo

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For most of the day, it was truly a Black Friday for potential Group of Five teams across the country.

No. 19 Boise State was upset by Air Force while No. 20 Houston was more consumed with Tom Herman coaching speculation than with beating Memphis.

No. 21 Western Michigan paid no attention to those losses however and made a convincing case they were the best Group of Five team in the country by dispatching Toledo 55-35 and securing the MAC West title in record-setting fashion.

Wide receiver Corey Davis finished with eight catches for 81 yards and a touchdown to set a new FBS mark for career receiving yardage in the process. The mark was previously held by Nevada’s Trevor Insley at 5,005 yards but Davis will have plenty of time to put more distance between second place with the MAC title game and a bowl still left on Western Michigan’s schedule.

Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell had an ever efficient night, throwing for 196 yards and three touchdowns. As solid as he was however, he took a backseat to the rest of his backfield as Jamauri Bogan rushed for 198 yards and a touchdown while Jarvion Franklin had a relatively quiet night but did find the end zone twice.

Toledo’s normally potent offense was limited most of the night despite finishing with decent numbers by the final whistle. Signal-caller Logan Woodside had three touchdown passes and two picks on just 229 yards while terrific tailback Kareem Hunt rushed for 200 yards and found the end zone once.

The result concludes a terrific 9-3 debut season for first-year Rockets coach Jason Candle, even if the team couldn’t overcome their division rival on Friday. As for his opposite number P.J. Fleck, all eyes are on Western Michigan as they head into the MAC title game undefeated next week against Ohio.

With losses around the country, only No. 25 Navy represents a challenge to the Broncos for capturing that elusive Group of Five bid and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. Both need to win their conferences to actually end up with the bid but judging by the way the Broncos looked on Friday night, chances are high they’ll be sitting there undefeated entering the final set of rankings.

Western Michigan rows the boat to first AP ranking in program history

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For the first time in its 55-year history, Western Michigan is ranked in the AP top 25, debuting at No. 24 on Monday.

P.J. Fleck’s Broncos are 6-0 after beating Northern Illinois, 45-30, on Saturday, and have wins over Illinois and Northwestern this year. Quarterback Zach Terrell has 15 touchdowns and no interceptions — zip, zero, nada — to go along with a 70.6 completion percentage and 1,390 yards. Terrell and running backs Jarvion Franklin and Jamuri Bogan are leading an offense that’s averaging 44.6 points per game, sixth among FBS programs.

Anyways, on to the rest of the poll, which is below:

  1. Alabama (56)
  2. Ohio State (2)
  3. Clemson (2)
  4. Michigan (1)
  5. Washington
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Louisville
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Tennessee
  10. Nebraska
  11. Baylor
  12. Ole Miss
  13. Houston
  14. Florida State
  15. Boise State
  16. Miami
  17. Virginia Tech
  18. Florida
  19. Oklahoma
  20. West Virginia
  21. Utah
  22. Arkansas
  23. Auburn
  24. Western Michigan
  25. Navy

We’ll see more movement in these rankings with Week 7 featuring Alabama at Tennessee, Ole Miss at Arkansas and — most notably — Ohio State at Wisconsin.

The Amway Coaches Poll also was released Monday, with Western Michigan ranked No. 23. See the full poll here.