ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 02:  Natrell Jamerson #12, Leo Musso #19, Sojourn Shelton #8, D'Cota Dixon #14, and Derrick Tindal #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers dive after a fumble in the second quarter during the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic between Western Michigan and Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 02:  Corey Clement #6 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs for a touchdown in the first quarter during the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic between Western Michigan and Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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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

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Corey Davis #84 of the Western Michigan Broncos tries to avoid the tackle of Kylan Nelson #23 of the Ohio Bobcats of the Ohio Bobcats after a first half catch during the MAC Championship on December 2, 2016 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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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

Alabama and Ohio State each land six players on AP All-American teams

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03:  Jonathan Allen #93 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after sacking Austin Appleby #12 of the Florida Gators in the fourth quarter during the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 3, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Associated Press released its 2016 All-American teams for the 2016 season, and it should be no surprise the teams are loaded with a healthy sampling of players from Alabama and Ohio State, as well as headlined by the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson was named a First-Team All-American by the AP, as well as fellow Heisman Trophy finalists Jabrill Peppers of Michigan and Dede Westbrook of Oklahoma.

Four players from Alabama were named to the Frist Team, which was more players from a single school than any other program; DL Jonathan Allen, LB Reuben Foster, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick and OT Cam Robinson. Linebacker Tim Williams and tight end O.J. Howard received second-team recognition. Ohio State had three players on the first team; center Pat Elflein, safety Malik Hooker, and H-Back Curtis Samuel.

Houston freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver is the first freshman to be named First-Team All-American since Sammy Watkins of Clemson and LSU punter Brad Wing received the honor in 2011.

The Associated Press All-American team is the third of the five All-American teams to be released that is used t determine the Consensus All-American team. At this rate, there should be a good number of consensus All-Americans on the list, with just the AFCA and FWAA All-American teams to be released in the coming days.

AP First Team All-Americans By Conference

  1. SEC (8)
  2. Big Ten (7)
  3. Pac-12 (4)
  4. ACC (2)
    Big 12 (2)
  5. American (1)
    MAC (1)

FIRST TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Lamar Jackson, sophomore, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Louisville

Running backs — D'Onta Foreman, junior, 6-2, 249, Texas; Dalvin Cook, junior, 5-11, 213, Florida State

Tackles — Cam Robinson, junior, 6-6, 310, Alabama; Ryan Ramczyk, junior, 6-6, 314, Wisconsin

Guards — Cody O’Connell, junior, 6-8, 354, Washington State; Dan Feeney, senior, 6-4, 305, Indiana.

Center — Pat Elflein, senior, 6-3, 300, Ohio State

Tight end — Evan Engram, senior, 6-3, 235, Mississippi

Wide receivers — Dede Westbrook, senior, 6-0, 176, Oklahoma; Corey Davis, senior, 6-3, 213, Western Michigan

All-purpose player — Curtis Samuel, junior, 5-11 197, Ohio State

Kicker — Zane Gonzalez, senior, 6-1, 195, Arizona State

DEFENSE

Ends — Myles Garrett, junior, 6-5, 270, Texas A&M; Derek Barnett, junior, 6-3, 265, Tennessee

Tackles — Jonathan Allen, junior, 6-3, 290, Alabama; Ed Oliver, freshman, 6-2, 290, Houston

Linebackers — Reuben Foster, senior, 6-1, 228, Alabama; Zach Cunningham, junior, 6-2, 230, Vanderbilt; Jabrill Peppers, junior, 6-1, 205, Michigan

Cornerbacks — Jourdan Lewis, senior, 5-11, 186, Michigan; Adoree’ Jackson, junior, 5-11, 185, Southern California

Safeties — Malik Hooker, sophomore, 6-2, 205, Ohio State; Minkah Fitzpatrick, sophomore, 6-1, 200, Alabama

Punter — Mitch Wishnowsky, sophomore, 6-2, 220, Utah

___

SECOND TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Deshaun Watson, junior, Clemson

Running backs — Donnel Pumphrey, senior, San Diego State; Christian McCaffrey, junior, Stanford

Tackles — Connor Williams, sophomore, Texas; Orlando Brown, sophomore, Oklahoma

Guards — Billy Price, junior, Ohio State; Will Hernandez, junior, UTEP

Center — Tyler Orlovsky, senior, West Virginia

Tight end — Jake Butt, senior, Michigan

Wide receivers — Zay Jones, senior, East Carolina; John Ross, junior, Washington

All-purpose player — Quadree Henderson, sophomore, Pitt

Kicker — Daniel Carlson, junior, Auburn

DEFENSE

Ends — DeMarcus Walker, senior, Florida State; Harold Landry, junior, Boston College

Tackles — Carlos Watkins, senior, Clemson; Montravius Adams, senior, Auburn

Linebackers — Raekwon McMillan, junior, Ohio State; T.J. Watt, junior, Wisconsin; Tim Williams, senior, Alabama

Cornerbacks — Rasul Douglas, senior, West Virginia; Desmond King, senior, Iowa

Safeties — Budda Baker, junior, Washington; Jamal Adams, junior, LSU

Punter — Cameron Johnston, senior, Ohio State

___

THIRD TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Baker Mayfield, junior, Oklahoma

Running backs — Saquon Barkley, sophomore, Penn State; Aaron Jones, junior, UTEP

Tackles — Mike McGlinchey, senior, Notre Dame; Forrest Lamp, senior, Western Kentucky

Guards — Nico Siragusa, senior, San Diego State; Quenton Nelson, junior, Notre Dame

Center — Ethan Pocic, senior, LSU

Tight end — O.J. Howard, senior, Alabama

Wide receivers — Amba Etta-Tawo, senior, Syracuse; Austin Carr, senior, Northwestern

All-purpose player — Christian Kirk, sophomore, Texas A&M

Kicker — Gary Wunderlich, junior, Mississippi

DEFENSE

Ends — Hunter Dimick, senior, Utah; Jordan Willis, senior, Kansas State

Tackles — Christian Wilkins, sophomore, Clemson; Solomon Thomas, junior, Stanford

Linebackers — Kendell Beckwith, senior, LSU; Jimmie Gilbert, senior, Colorado; Ben Boulware, senior, Clemson

Cornerbacks — Teez Tabor, junior, Florida; Cordrea Tankersley, senior, Clemson

Safeties — Nathan Gerry, senior, Nebraska; Weston Steelhammer, senior, Air Force

Punter — Michael Dickson, sophomore, Texas

The 10 best and 10 worst bowl matchups, as ranked by F/+

EL PASO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  The Miami Hurricanes kick off to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Sun Bowl on December 30, 2010 in El Paso, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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2016’s most even bowl matchup will happen in El Paso, Texas, while the most lopsided game will take place in Boise, Idaho.

Those on-paper analyses are based on the end-of-the-season F/+ rankings, which are explained here on Football Outsiders. Personally, they’re a go-to for getting a rough idea of how good a certain team is, so why not use them to preview the best and worst bowl matchups?

Here are the 10 best games based on how close the two participants’ F/+ rankings are:

Sun Bowl (+1): No. 25 Stanford vs. No. 26 UNC
Fiesta Bowl (+2): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl (+2): No. 7 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
Sugar Bowl (+2): No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl (+2): No. 51 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 53 Navy

Peach Bowl (+4): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Washington
Quick Lane Bowl (+4): No. 93 Boston College vs. No. 97 Maryland
New Mexico Bowl (+5): No. 81 New Mexico vs. No. 86 UT-San Antonio
Citrus Bowl (+6): No. 5 LSU vs. No. 11 Louisville
Cotton Bowl (+10): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Western Michigan

Obviously, the two College Football Playoff games (Ohio State-Clemson, Alabama-Washington) are among the closest, but it’s good to see three of the four other New Year’s Six bowls in here as well. The Orange Bowl (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Florida State) just barely missed the cut.

As for the 10 biggest mismatches:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (+71): No. 29 Colorado State vs. No. 100 Idaho
Birmingham Bowl (+61): No. 33 South Florida vs. No. 94 South Carolina
Military Bowl (+54): No. 18 Temple vs. No. 72 Wake Forest
Cactus Bowl (+52): No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 66 Baylor
Miami Beach Bowl (+45): No. 44 Tulsa vs. No. 89 Central Michigan

Arizona Bowl (+38): No. 49 Air Force vs. No. 87 South Alabama
Las Vegas Bowl (+30): No. 20 Houston vs. No. 50 San Diego State
Poinsettia Bowl (+27): No. 30 BYU vs. No. 57 Wyoming
Heart of Dallas Bowl (+26): No. 85 Army vs. No. 111 North Texas
Russell Athletic Bowl (+25): No. 15 Miami vs. No. 40 West Virginia

It’s not surprising three of these games involve top-level Group of Five teams (South Florida, Temple, Boise State) playing 6-6 Power Five teams (South Carolina, Wake Forest, Baylor), given that’s where a lot of bowl mismatches can take place. It was a little surprising to see the gulf between Houston and San Diego State be so significant, though.

But while these matchups may either be close or lopsided, always remember the ironclad rule of bowl season: Weird stuff is gonna happen. One team may not care while the other does, one team may not deal with the elements (especially in the northern bowls) as well as the other, or one team may come in with something to prove while the other team doesn’t. The best-case scenario for us college football fans is that every game is interesting and worth watching, no matter what the on-paper numbers may say.