Corey Clement

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No. 8 Wisconsin brings No. 15 Western Michigan dream season to close with a loss

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It was a magical season for No. 15 Western Michigan (13-1), but the mission of ending the season without a loss was blocked by No. 8 Wisconsin (11-3) in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas on Monday afternoon. The Badgers took control of the game early on and kept Western Michigan at a comfortable distance the rest of the way in a 24-16 victory.

Wisconsin established order with its running game in the first half, with Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale each ending the first two possessions of the day with a touchdown run, but the Broncos battled back and hung around heading into the fourth quarter. Corey Davis caught a desperation pass in the end zone on a fourth down heave from Zach Terrell, giving the Broncos some life late in the game, but a missed extra point attempt meant the MAC champions would need to either recover an onside kick or come up with one last defensive stand against the Badgers. The onside kick bounced out of play, giving the ball to Wisconsin, and Troy Fumagalli caught a big first down to finish off a stellar day in the passing game (Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook were a combined 13-of-14 for 178 yards). Fumagalli also had one touchdown grab and a brilliant one-handed catch in the first half.

Regardless of how it ended, it was a pure joy to watch Western Michigan grow as the season went along. One of the hottest teams in the MAC at the end of the 2015 season had the look and confidence of a MAC champion from the opening kickoff to the 2016 season, which started with a pair of victories against Wisconsin’s division foes in Northwestern and Illinois. Western Michigan ended the regular season as one of two undefeated teams in the country, joining Alabama. Western Michigan may have come up short on the scoreboard, but the Broncos belonged on the same field as Wisconsin.

In 2017, the Wisconsin Badgers will likely be among the top contenders for the big Ten Wets Division.The Badgers will get a slight relief on the Big Ten schedule in 2017 by not having to play Ohio State on the cross-divisional rotation. The Badgers will add Indiana instead in addition to a home game with Michigan. Wisconsin also plays at Nebraska and will get a nice out-of-conference test on the road against BYU. The 2017 season kicks off in Madison against Utah State on Friday, September 1.

Western Michigan will be fortunate to have P.J. Fleck back on the sideline in 2017, but expect his name to be floating around a number of coaching rumors in the year to come. The 2017 season will start with two road games against USC on Saturday, September 2 and against Michigan State the following week.

Wisconsin starts strong, but WMU fights back in Cotton Bowl

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Undefeated Western Michigan rowed its way into the Cotton Bowl, but that boat is in danger of sinking for the first time this season. Wisconsin’s power running game is set the tone early but the Big Ten runners-up own a 17-7 lead on the MAC champion in the Cotton Bowl at halftime after Western Michigan finally gained some confidence on offense.

Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell rolled out on a brilliantly called play and dodged one defender to score a touchdown.

The Badgers did respond to the first score of the day from Western Michigan by tacking on a late field goal to extend the lead to 10 points juts before halftime.

Corey Clement got right to work on the first drive of the game for Wisconsin by rushing for over 40 yards and easing his way through a tunnel in front of him to open the scoring with a touchdown. Terrell completed a 22-yard pass to Corey Davis on the first offensive snap from the Broncos, but Western Michigan was forced to punt three plays later, which led to a second Wisconsin touchdown run. This time it was Dare Ogunbowale scoring from one yard out to complete an 88-yard touchdown drive.

Wisconsin owned an advantage in offensive yards after one quarter, 166-46, including 104 rushing yards to Western Michigan’s four. Bart Houston has also been the quarterback for the Badgers, with Alex Hornibrook also getting on the field.

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

CFT Previews: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

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WHO: No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Northwestern (6-6)
WHAT: The 7th NewEra Pinstripe Bowl
WHEN: 2:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Yankee Stadium, New York, NY
THE SKINNY: Pitt running back James Conner will play his final college football game before turning pro in the house that Derek Jeter built, Yankee Stadium. Conner has been one of the true inspirations in college football this season as he has overcome cancer to remain one of the top running backs in the nation. Connor rushed for over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns as a key cog in Pitt’s potent offense. How much they can keep that going in the bowl season will be something to watch after losing offensive coordinator Matt Canada to LSU to be a part of Ed Oregon’s coaching staff in Baton Rouge.

Pitt had the second-highest scoring offense in the ACC this season behind Louisville, with 42.3 points per game, highlighted by a road victory over ACC champion and No. 2 Clemson, an early-season victory over eventual Big Ten champion Penn State, and scoring at least 36 points in all but one game since the season opener. The defense, however, has been the polar opposite of the Pitt offense, giving up at least 30 points in all but two games this season. The season ended by giving up 61 points to Syracuse, although the Panthers managed to get the win.

Northwestern’s offense could struggle to keep up the scoring pace Pitt has been accustomed this season, although the Wildcats have some talent on offense to cause problems for Pitt’s defense. Justin Jackson ended the regular season as the Big Ten’s rushing leader with 1,300 yards (eclipsed only by Wisconsin’s Corey Clement with the benefit of the Big Ten championship game). Jackson averages 108.33 rushing yards per game. The Wildcats also have the Big Ten’s leading receiver, Austin Carr, the only 1,000-yard receiver in the Big Ten this season (84 receptions, 1,196 yards, 12 touchdowns all lead the Big Ten).

The Pinstripe Bowl has packed some fun games the last two years since the ACC and Big Ten paired up for the game. Penn State clipped Boston College in overtime (31-30) two seasons ago and Duke edged Indiana in overtime (44-41) last December. Expect some good offensive fireworks between the Panthers and Wildcats, and another one going the distance.

THE PREDICTION: Pitt 52, Northwestern 46

No. 6 Wisconsin scores 24 unanswered to drop Minnesota en route to Indy

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The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) looked like they may have been caught sleepwalking their way through their regular season finale on Saturday, but a 21-0 fourth quarter advantage rallied the Big Ten West Division champions past rival Minnesota (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten). The Badgers closed out a 10-win regular season with a 31-17 thumping of Minnesota by shutting out the Gophers in the second half.

Corey Clement scored two rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Gophers were crumbling. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner was picked off four times in the loss and he completed just nine of 26 pass attempts for 158 yards. Leidner also led the Gophers on the ground with 46 yards and a touchdown. Leidner played well in the first half but could not make a big play in the second half. The Badgers had to replace Alex Hornibrook with Bart Houston after Hornibrook got knocked out with a rough hit. Houston did his part, completing eight of 14 attempts for 123 yards. Wisconsin also rolled up 210 yards of rushing offense.

Wisconsin will head to Indianapolis next week to play in the Big Ten Championship Game to play Penn State, who clinched the Big Ten East with a win over Michigan State and an Ohio State victory over Michigan earlier in the day. The Badgers are making their fourth trip to the Big Ten championship game, and will do so under a third different coach in Paul Chryst. Bret Bielema coached the Badgers to two Big Ten Leaders Division championships in 2011 and 2012 and Gary Andersen took the Badgers to the championship game with the West Division title in 2014. Wisconsin is 2-1 in Big Ten title games. The Badgers are also on the bubble for the College Football Playoff as they head to Indy.

Minnesota will await a bowl invitation with possibilities including the Holiday Bowl or Music City Bowl as most likely destinations.