Corey Davis

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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

Two glaring omissions headline Biletnikoff watch list

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It’s not often that who’s not on what’s essentially a meaningless preseason watch list is the main storyline, but that’s the case when it comes to the Biletnikoff Award this year.

First, who is on the watch list for the award handed out annually to the nation’s top wide receivers: a total of 48 players at the position, which is actually a rather subdued number compared to other watch lists that come out this time of the year.

Headlining the four dozen receivers actually listed is Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins, who was a finalist for last year’s award that went to Alabama’s Amari Cooper.  Joining Higgins are 2014 semifinalists Sterling Shepard of Oklahoma and Nelson Spruce of Colorado.

Now, the players who was inexplicably excluded from the initial watch list? Auburn’s D’haquille Williams, first and foremost. The senior wideout was already named to the Maxwell Award watch list earlier this month. He’s considered by many to be the best receiver in the SEC — Mel Kiper has Williams as his No. 1 player at that position — yet four receivers from that conference are included.  The only receiver on the Biletnikoff watch list to also make Maxwell’s is South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper.

Williams missed three of the last four games last season because of an injury, yet still totaled 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Kiper may have him a bit overrated on his Big Board, but Williams certainly deserves one of the 48 spots allotted — or the award should at least make room for a 49th.  Or a 49th and 50th.

That said, Williams can, and probably will, be added to an in-season update from the folks at the Biletnikoff.  The same could be said for Player. No. 2: Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell.

Despite missing the last four games of the year because of a gruesome leg injury, Williams still led the Rebels in receptions with 48 and was second in yardage with 632.  Like Williams, Treadwell made the cut for the Maxwell, which is awarded annually to the best player in college football regardless of position.

Anyway, below is the complete Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list.

Victor Bolden, Oregon State
Devonte Boyd, UNLV
Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan
Ryan Burbrink, Bowling Green
KD Cannon, Baylor
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
Rashon Ceaser, ULM
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
River Cracraft, Washington State
Jared Dangerfield, Western Kentucky
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Josh Doctson, TCU
Travin Dural, LSU
Alex Erickson, Wisconsin
William Fuller, Notre Dame
Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Donovan Harden, Georgia State
Carlos Harris, North Texas
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Ajalen Holley, ULM
Cayleb Jones, Arizona
Corey Jones, Toledo
Isaiah Jones, East Carolina
Marcus Kemp, Hawaii
Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
Byron Marshall, Oregon
Mitch Mathews, BYU
Teldrick Morgan, New Mexico State
Jordan Payton, UCLA
Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
Jalen Robinette, Air Force
Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Alonzo Russell, Toledo
Artavis Scott, Clemson
Hunter Sharp, Utah State
Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State
Nelson Spruce, Colorado
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky
Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Shaq Washington, Cincinnati
Mike Williams, Clemson
Ron Willoughby, Buffalo

Jameis Winston headlines 2013 FWAA Freshman All-American team, Gus Malzahn also honored

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Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is celebrating his birthday as a Freshman All-American, although this comes as far from a shock as possibly considering the season he has had for the Seminoles. This season’s Heisman Trophy winner was named to the Freshman All-American team by the Football Writers Association of America.

Florida State also had defensive back Jalen Ramsey named to the Freshman All-American team. Florida State’s BCS Championship Game opponent, Auburn, is also represented with offensive lineman Alex Kozan being named to the team as well. In addition, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was named to the freshman team as the nation’s top first-year head coach at Auburn, although this is actually Malzahn’s second year as a head coach.

Here is the 2013 FWAA Freshman All-American team

OFFENSE (12)

Pos. Player, School Ht. Wt. Hometown

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State 6-4 228 Bessemer, Ala.

RB • Alex Collins, Arkansas 5-11 206 Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

RB • Elijah McGuire, Louisiana 5-11 185 Houma, La.

WR • Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh 6-2 185 Clairton, Pa.

WR • Corey Davis, Western Michigan 6-2 205 Wheaton, Ill.

WR • Nate Phillips, Arizona 5-7 177 Chandler, Ariz.

TE • Hunter Henry, Arkansas 6-6 250 Little Rock, Ark.

OL Jack Conklin, Michigan State 6-6 236 Plainwell, Mich.

OL Andrew Jelks, Vanderbilt 6-6 290 Paris, Tenn.

OL Alex Kozan, Auburn 6-4 297 Castle Rock, Colo.

OL Ben Lauer, Minnesota 6-6 302 Plymouth, Minn,

OL • Alex Redmond, UCLA 6-5 305 Cerritos, Calif.

DEFENSE (12)

DL • Tarell Basham, Ohio 6-4 250 Rocky Mount, Va.

DL • Joey Bosa, Ohio State 6-6 275 Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

DL • Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA 6-4 305 Auburn, Calif,

LB • Dominque Alexander, Oklahoma 6-2 216 Tulsa, Okla.

LB • Dakota Cox, New Mexico 6-0 235 Draper, Utah

LB • Addison Gillam, Colorado 6-3 225 Palo Cedro, Calif.

LB • Myles Jack, UCLA 6-1 225 Bellevue, Wash.

DB • Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech 5-11 193 Baltimore, Md.

DB Jacoby Glenn, UCF 6-0 176 Prichard, Ala.

DB • Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida 5-11 192 Tampa, Fla.

DB • Jalen Ramsey, Florida State 6-1 195 Smyrna, Tenn.

DB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma 5-11 176 Keller, Texas

SPECIALISTS (4)

P • Austin Rehkow, Idaho 6-3 202 Veradale, Wash.

K • Michael Geiger, Michigan State 5-8 186 Toledo, Ohio

PR • Ryan Switzer, North Carolina 5-10 175 Charleston, W. Va.

KR • Stacey Coley, Miami 6-1 180 Pompano Beach, Fla.

HEAD COACH

Gus Malzahn, Auburn

• Denotes true freshman