After a tough loss in the conference title with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, many Wisconsin fans aren’t satisfied with their team’s New Year’s Six bid against non-Power Five conference No. 15 Western Michigan University.
During last week’s Facebook Live session, The Badger Herald sports section was asked if a potential berth in the 2017 Goodyear Cotton Bowl against No. 15 Western Michigan would be a disappointment to this season’s Badgers team.
@BOOMbaca is this season turned into a mega letdown if UW ends up playing W. Mich in Cotton Bowl? / will you visit me if they do play?
— KINDA OK BADGER FAN (@NickBrazzoni) December 1, 2016
After Wisconsin let a 21-point lead in the second quarter slip through their fingers and end in 31-38 heartbreaker to then-No. 7 Penn State in conference championship, this what-if scenario quickly became a reality Sunday afternoon.
— Cotton Bowl Classic (@CottonBowlGame) December 4, 2016
While there is plenty reason for Badger fans to feel disappointed with Wisconsin’s second-half performance in Indianapolis last Saturday, those who remain discontent with the season as a whole need to take a step back and remember that this year’s team was projected to finish somewhere in the ballpark of .500.
With Wisconsin’s meat-grinder of a schedule, headlined by six games against top-12 opponents, the Badgers could have easily been competing in the “Toilet Bowl” this winter, let alone a New Year’s Six bid to the 2017 Goodyear Cotton Bowl.
Wisconsin has never competed in the Cotton Bowl either, which may I remind everyone is one of the most storied and prestigious bowl games in college football in its 81 years of existence, and having a chance to win it means something.
With the disappointment in Wisconsin’s non-Power Five conference opponent made clear by many across this campus, the 2017 Cotton Bowl is beginning to share some ominous similarities to the 2008-09 Allstate Sugar Bowl between No. 4 University of Alabama and No. 6 University of Utah.
Alabama earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl that year after losing to the University of Florida in the SEC Championship Game, in which the Crimson Tide also squandered a similar three-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
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Despite Utah’s undefeated record, Alabama and many of its fans felt they had been cheated with a matchup against a non-Power Five conference team in the Utes. Heavily favored Alabama proceeded to underplay Utah’s easier schedule and half-heartedly slept-walked into a what they expected to be a meaningless beat down.
Utah had different plans. The Utes came ready to play for a national championship that night because for a non-Power Five school (especially in the BCS era) like then-Mountain West Conference champions Utah, that game was the national title as far as they were concerned.
Utah stunned Alabama with a 21-0 wake-up call in the first quarter, and went on to win 31-17 to prove those “nobodies” from the Group of Five were formidable somebodies. The message is clear: Wisconsin and its fanbase can’t afford to underestimate a team playing with a chip on its shoulder like WMU.
In the last 10 meetings – spanning nine seasons – between Group of Five and Power Five conference teams in New Year’s Six (previously referred to Bowl Championship Series games before the College Football Playoff was implemented in 2014), the Group of Five has gone a convincing 8-2 against their big brother, including three consecutive victories in the past three seasons.
These Group of Five teams are consistently underestimated by their Power Five opponents on the big New Year’s Six stage, and this mistake persistently comes back to haunt to them year in and year out. Keep in mind, there are only two undefeated college football teams in the country this season: Alabama & Western Michigan.
Even if the Broncos did play no one but teams like Cupcake University or Marshmallow Tech all year, finishing perfect through an entire season is an impressive feat.
All season long, the Broncos have heard comments like, “Their [Western Michigan’s] undefeated record doesn’t mean anything because they aren’t Power Five,” and “They can’t compete with the Power Five because they haven’t played any decent teams this year, blah blah blah.”
Come kickoff in Arlington, Western Michigan’s electrically charismatic head coach P.J. Fleck and his undefeated, No. 15 Broncos are going to have something to say about these comments themselves on the field.
Teams like Western Michigan live to prove major Power Five programs and their fans like Wisconsin and its fans wrong. Expect Broncos to play Wisconsin harder than any other team they’ve faced all season long.
Wisconsin’s downfall in last Saturday’s loss started and ended with Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley’s dismantling of what turned into an unrecognizably porous Badgers secondary. The Nittany Lions’ explosive passing game exposed an Achilles Heel in the Badgers’ otherwise suffocating defense for the first time this season.
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Adding 384 yards, four touchdowns and no picks against UW in Indianapolis, McSorley’s season totals through 13 games rose to 3,360 yards, 25 TDs and five interceptions on the year. Don’t look now, but WMU senior quarterback Zach Terrell has thrown for a gravely similar 3,376 yards, 32 TDs and three picks in the same number of games.
Any members of the Grateful Red who are the under the impression WMU will make a nice doormat for the No. 8 Badgers in an insignificant game may want to brace themselves for Jan. 2.