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.
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.
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.
A week after knocking off Nebraska, No. 8 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) all of a sudden could be ready to regain control of the Big Ten West with a little help later tonight. After tying down a win against Northwestern (4-5, 3-3 Big Ten) with a 21-7 decision, the Badgers now are one Nebraska loss away from taking over the top spot in the division. Nebraska plays at Ohio State tonight.
Corey Clement rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown to lead Wisconsin’s ground attack, which combined for over 220 yards as a team against Northwestern’s defense. The Badgers got a quiet but adequately efficient passing effort from Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston when called upon. The story of the game was Wisconsin’s defense, which held Northwestern to just one score, which came late in the first half. At the time, it felt like a possible momentum shift, but Northwestern was forced to punt on their first three drives of the second half, with a pair of three-and-outs. Down 13-7, Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson fumbled away the football in the fourth quarter, which led to a Wisconsin touchdown (and two-point conversion).
Wisconsin controlled the football for 37 minutes.
Wisconsin will have to wait to see what happens with Nebraska, but the Badgers have a more favorable remaining schedule in front of them regardless of what the Huskers do against the Buckeyes. Next week, Wisconsin will host Illinois. After that is a road game at Purdue before closing out the regular season at home against rival Minnesota. The Badgers are 21-0 against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota since 2008.
Northwestern may be out of the division hunt, but the Wildcats still have work to do to reach a bowl game. Northwestern must win two of its final three games to reach the six-win minimum (without getting into 5-7 scenarios, which would appear to be highly favorable for Northwestern). Northwestern will have games at Purdue and home against Illinois as well as a road game at Minnesota. Northwestern should probably get to six wins.
On the road against Northwestern, Wisconsin nearly held the Wildcats scoreless in the first half while the Badgers’ running game has effectively controlled the clock. At the half, Wisconsin leads Northwestern 10-7.
A solid defensive battle saw Wisconsin find a crack in the Wildcats defense in the second quarter when Jazz Peavy took off for a 46-yard touchdown run to put Wisconsin up 10-0. Peavy also was on the receiving end of a big play earlier in the game with a 32-yard reception from Bart Houston. That drive led to a field goal. Wisconsin also missed a field goal in the first quarter.
After a real struggle of a first half, Northwestern appeared to find some momentum on their final offensive possession of the half. Clayton Thorson completed a 13-yard pass to Austin Carr for a much-needed touchdown in the final minute of the half.
This is a pretty pivotal game in the Big Ten West. A win keeps a shot at playing for the Big Ten championship within sight. Wisconsin already owns a head-to-head tiebreaker with Nebraska following last week’s win, so a win could give the Badgers the edge in the division depending on what happens to Nebraska later tonight at Ohio State. A Wisconsin win and a Nebraska loss gives Wisconsin the inside track to Indianapolis. The same cannot be said for Northwestern, as the Wildcats lost a head-to-head tiebreaker with Nebraska earlier this season. But a win for the Wildcats keeps them in the mix, while a loss probably knocks them out of the running in the division.