The 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic could possibly turn out to be an instant classic between No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 15 Western Michigan, both making their first appearance in the historic bowl game.
It was another solid season for Wisconsin, as they won the Big Ten West Division title with a 10-3 record, going 7-2 in conference play. A win in the Cotton Bowl would push the Badgers to the 11-win mark for the sixth time in school history and the second time in the last three years.
“You want them to enjoy the bowl experience,” said Badgers head coach Paul Chryst. “We’re lucky to be playing in Dallas in the Cotton Bowl. They do so many things for the whole bowl experience. You want them to enjoy that. But, they also need to get on that bus, come over to practice, lock in and make sure they get their work done.”
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Meanwhile, Western Michigan is one of the hottest teams in college football. The Broncos have won 15 straight games dating back to last season, winning the Mid-American Conference title with a 13-0 record this year.
The football program lives by the philosophy “Row the Boat.” Following the loss of his second son, head coach P.J. Fleck developed a way in which he was able to live his son’s life for him. There are three parts to Row the Boat:
- The Oars – The energy you bring to your life. The symbol of strength.
- The Boat – The sacrifice. What are you willing to give up for something you never had?
- The Compass – The direction. This is the close circle of who you surround yourself with.
The Broncos brought that philosophy and energy to their first practice in North Texas on Tuesday, to knock off some of the rust after a brief break for Christmas. Fleck described the practice as “elite.”
“Everybody is as healthy as they can be,” said Fleck. “We were able to cover every game situation we possibly could. It was basically a full practice with all of our install in. We were going full speed; we conditioned during practice. I thought they responded well.”
Western Michigan is led on offense by first-team All-American wide receiver and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Corey Davis. He is college football’s all-time leading receiver with 5,212 yards and the only player in FBS history with 300+ catches, 5,000+ yards and 50 receiving touchdowns. Davis led the nation this season with 18 TD catches.
As usual, Wisconsin is paced by its defense, led by All-American linebacker T.J. Watt, the younger brother of Houston Texan defensive end J.J. Watt. In his first season as a starter, the younger Watt led the Big Ten in sacks with 10.5, which ranks him 12th nationally.
This is the fifth all-time meeting between the two teams, with Wisconsin holding a 3-1 series advantage. Wisconsin is also making its 15th straight postseason appearance, the sixth-longest streak nationally. The Badgers are 13-14 overall in 27 bowl appearances. Western Michigan is 1-6 in postseason play.
Kickoff for the 81st Cotton Bowl is set for noon on Monday, Jan. 2, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.