Western Michigan makes Cotton logo reality vs. Wisconsin
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Western Michigan running back Jarvion Franklin remembers the initial reaction when the Cotton Bowl logo flashed on the screen during a team meeting nearly a year ago, only days after the Broncos' first-ever bowl victory.
''As a team, we were all shocked. We thought, OK, there goes coach (P.J.) Fleck doing something crazy,'' Franklin said. ''At the same time, we realized it was possible.''
The 12th-ranked Broncos (13-0) made it from Kalamazoo to the Cotton Bowl with their Fleck-ingrained ''Row The Boat'' mantra. The Mid-American Conference champs play No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3) on Monday.
Three years after winning only once in Fleck's first season, Western Michigan is now the only FBS team other than No. 1 Alabama with a chance to finish undefeated.
During that team meeting last Jan. 7, five days after they won the Bahamas Bowl, Fleck made his players aware of this season's New Year's Six game for the highest-ranked Group of Five team.
''But it wasn't just the logo,'' Fleck explained Sunday. ''It was if you want this as players, this is not necessarily my goal for you or my vision for you and to put that pressure on you.''
Fleck told them to have a players-only meeting, and they came back to him after meeting twice. Yes, they wanted to get to the Cotton Bowl, but they didn't want to talk about it again.
That was exactly the response Fleck hoped to get from his players. They had to win games and the MAC title before the Cotton Bowl could even be a possibility.
Receiver Corey Davis, who could have been a high NFL draft pick last year, came back for his senior season. He became an All-American and the FBS career leader in receiving yards while helping WMU reach its goal.
Wisconsin's losses were to the other Big Ten teams playing New Year's Six games. After consecutive losses in October to Michigan and Ohio State - teams that have already lost bowl games - the Badgers won six in a row before losing to Penn State in the league's championship game .
''Obviously, there's still a bad taste in our mouth. But it didn't take too long,'' Wisconsin junior linebacker T.J. Watt said. ''That's a credit to Western Michigan. We can't take them lightly. And we knew that coming in, so we couldn't stress over the loss too much.''
Some other things to know about the Cotton Bowl, being played in the home stadium of the Dallas Cowboys:
NEAR-RECORD DUO: Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell and Davis have connected for 50 touchdowns, one short of the FBS record for QB-WR duo. (Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard had 51 TDs for Rice from 2005-08). Davis has 51 career TDs, all but one from Terrell, whose 95 TD passes are four short of the WMU mark.
TWO BADGER QBs: Coach Paul Chryst isn't saying which quarterback will start, but the Badgers likely will use both senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook like they have since midway through the season. Hornibrook started nine games before missing the Big Ten title game because of a concussion. He has been cleared for the Cotton Bowl.
HOME OF THE COWBOYS: One of the first things Western Michigan did after getting to North Texas last Monday was attend the Cowboys' home game that night. ''They thought we were doing that for some fun. There's always a little bit of coaching behind everything we do,'' Fleck said. ''We wanted to get that `a-ha' moment and that `awe' moment out.'' Many Wisconsin players have already in the building for a game. The Badgers lost to Alabama in their 2015 season opener there.
UP-FRONT MISMATCHES: Led by All-American left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, the Badgers' starting offensive linemen average 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds. That's nearly 3 inches and 45 pounds more than the Western Michigan defensive front. ''We know who we are. We know what we do, and we know how to do it,'' Fleck said. ''But we're going to have to be quicker, faster, smarter.''
COMMON OPPONENTS: Both teams went 3-0 against Northwestern, Illinois and Akron. ''I think you try to take as much as you can, but you've got to be careful of putting too much stock in it,'' Chryst said about looking at those common outcomes and foes.
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