Jesse TempleDan Murphy 648d

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic early look: Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan

Wisconsin and Western Michigan will provide an entertaining contrast in styles when the teams meet in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 2. The Badgers rank fourth in the FBS in scoring defense (15.5 points per game) and love to create turnovers. Meanwhile, the Broncos rank eighth nationally in scoring offense (43.5 points) and have given the ball away fewer times than any team in the country.

As the adage goes, something's got to give. We take a look at how the programs match up heading into the postseason.

How Wisconsin beats you: The Badgers lead the FBS in time of possession thanks to a solid defense and an offense that loves to run the ball. Wisconsin has been great at taking early leads and then wearing down opponents with a steady dose of tailback Corey Clement, who averages more carries per game than any other Big Ten running back (24.3). Wisconsin also is the type of team that waits for the opposition to make a mistake because the Badgers rarely beat themselves. The defense ranks second in the FBS with 21 interceptions, and the team's plus-11 turnover margin is tied for sixth nationally. The Badgers also rank second in fewest penalties per game. – Temple

How Western Michigan beats you: The Broncos don’t make many mistakes. Before the MAC championship game, quarterback Zach Terrell had only one interception to go with 30 touchdown passes in the regular season. He threw two picks in the title game against Ohio, which turned out to be the closest battle Terrell and company have had since the season opener. The offense has a good habit of establishing its rushing attack before finding spots to let Corey Davis, the all-time FBS leader in receiving yards, get loose in the secondary. Murphy

How you beat Wisconsin: During the Big Ten championship game, Penn State showed how a strong-armed quarterback and a few playmaking receivers are capable of decimating the Badgers' much-praised defense. Nittany Lions QB Trace McSorley set a Big Ten title game record with 384 yards passing and four touchdowns. If Terrell can spread the ball around -- and find top receiver Davis a bunch -- perhaps it could give Wisconsin fits. The last thing Wisconsin's offense wants to do is play from behind. – Temple

How you beat Western Michigan: Nobody one has figured that out yet. While the Broncos have a handful of players who stand out on any college football field, they won’t have the same depth and big-bodied linemen that Wisconsin brings to Texas. The Badgers’ best bet is to do what they do best: Grind away on the defensive line and give Terrell, Davis and the rest of the Western Michigan offense as little time as possible to try to turn the Cotton Bowl into a shootout. ­– Murphy

X factor for the Badgers: Motivation level is always critical this time of year. Wisconsin very nearly won the Big Ten championship game to reach the Rose Bowl. Instead, the Badgers were knocked down a peg and must play a team that, while incredibly talented, does not come from a Power 5 conference. On the other hand, Wisconsin could be inspired to prove what happened against Penn State doesn't represent how good the group has been all season. As for a particular player, receiver Jazz Peavy could have a big game. He leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, is fourth in rushing yards because of his success in jet sweeps and is the Badgers' primary punt return man. – Temple

X factor for the Broncos: Along with avoiding turnovers on offense, Western Michigan’s defense is pretty good at creating them. The Broncos started their regular-season finale with a pick-six against Toledo. They had two first-quarter fumble recoveries in the MAC title game, which they clinched with a late interception by linebacker Robert Spillane. One of P.J. Fleck’s earliest recruits, Spillane has three interceptions and two forced fumbles this season. If he can add to that total against Wisconsin, Western Michigan could have the opportunities it needs to finish its season with a perfect 14-0 record. -- Murphy

Bold predictions

Temple: Wisconsin intercepts Terrell at least twice. Considering the Badgers have 21 picks this season, that might not sound like some wild declaration. But Terrell has thrown a total of three interceptions the entire season. And if Ohio can secure two of those interceptions in the MAC championship game, then Wisconsin should find opportunities as well. The Badgers will be focused on stopping Davis, so if Terrell is forced out of his comfort zone, he could experience a game unlike anything he has seen all year.

Murphy: The Group of 5’s undefeated streak in New Year’s Six bowls doesn’t make it to three. Boise State and Houston carried the torch in the first two years of the playoff era, but Wisconsin’s size difference will be too much to handle for Western Michigan. Fleck’s team has been fantastic and a whole lot of fun all season, and this isn’t to say the Broncos won’t put up a fight, but finishing undefeated doesn’t seem likely this year.

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