Who are the Western Michigan Broncos?

Nov 27, 2015; Toledo, OH, USA; Western Michigan Broncos head coach P.J. Fleck talks to players during the fourth quarter against the Toledo Rockets at Glass Bowl. Broncos win 35-30. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2015; Toledo, OH, USA; Western Michigan Broncos head coach P.J. Fleck talks to players during the fourth quarter against the Toledo Rockets at Glass Bowl. Broncos win 35-30. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Wisconsin Badgers will face the Western Michigan Broncos out of the MAC in the Cotton Bowl on January 2nd.

Say what you will about the Badgers and their opponent this year, both teams have earned the right to get a prestigious bowl and will be playing with a chip on their shoulder.

Those who follow the Badgers closely know how the team got to this point. A roller coaster year of emotions, starting off with a season-opening win over a top five LSU team, followed by one of the toughest schedules in recent memory, Wisconsin finished the year 10-3 with all of their losses coming by seven points to top seven teams. The Badgers were picked by some to finish third in the Big Ten West and most of us can remember Colin Cowherd ripping on this team, predicting a 6-6 record.

If you get too annoyed with Cowherd, here is a quick summary:

  • LSU: “Wisconsin will lose that football game.”
  • Michigan State: “They are going to lose.”
  • Michigan: “They are going to lose ugly.”
  • Ohio State: “They are going to play competitively, but lose.”
  • Iowa: “Lose an ugly game at Iowa…four game losing streak.”
  • Northwestern: “I think they will lose at Northwestern.”

So…uh…yeah, take that Colin. Anyway, time to digress.

The Broncos of Western Michigan will enter their contest against the Badgers as one of just two teams to make it through the college football season undefeated- the other being Alabama. While some will be quick to jump on the Broncos’ conference and so-called “cupcake” schedule, it is tough to go undefeated in any sport- truly a remarkable accomplishment.

Western Michigan at 13-0 holds three common opponents as the Badgers this year. The Broncos opened up their season on the road with a 22-21 win at Northwestern, a place Wisconsin had not won at since 1999 until the Badgers’ 21-7 victory on November 5. Two weeks later, the Broncos hit the road to another Big Ten stadium, this time knocking of Illinois with ease 34-10. The Badgers defeated the Fighting Illini by a score of 48-3 on November 12.  Western Michigan (41-0) and Wisconsin (54-10) also defeated Akron in another shared game.

Following a non-conference performance that caught the attention of the college football world, the Broncos breezed through the Mid-American Conference (MAC) with ease, scoring over 40 points in their first five games and holding a margin of victory around 28 points. Western Michigan won every game in the regular season by double digits, with their smallest margin coming against Eastern Michigan in a 45-31 victory earlier in the year. The lone test on the schedule ended up in the conference championship game when the Broncos escaped with a 29-23 win over the Ohio Bobcats to cap off the perfect MAC slate and win the conference title.

Despite their domination, the Broncos failed to gain any momentum in the national ranks, sitting around the No. 20-25 mark for most of the season and seeing the likes of other non-power conference teams like Boise State and Navy pass them in the poll.

The lack of disrespect was not the only problem for Western Michigan, as their booming success started a whirlwind of rumors about their young, energetic coach P.J. Fleck possibly leaving to another school. Fleck, 36, has not focused on any of that and intends to move forward with the Broncos.

“We’ve had a real legacy in the MAC of some of the best coaches in the history of football,” university donor Bill Johnston said a few days after the Broncos’ most recent win over Ohio. “One of the things the conference hasn’t [done] is to retain one of those legacy coaches. Perhaps universities didn’t have an appetite to do that. … I think you can create an environment where a coach could say, ‘Yeah I can be a legacy coach here.'”

There has been quite the negative reaction surrounding the Wisconsin fanbase since the learning of the Badgers’ bowl game opponent. Assuming a lose-lose situation pleading that if the Badgers win, it’s an unimpressive victory that was supposed to be over a non-power school, versus a loss that would be a defeat to a lesser team. Former Florida State fullback Lonne Pryor disagrees, and personally gave a message to the Wisconsin Badgers.

“Step 1. Treat Western Michigan like it’s Alabama,” Pryor said.

“Step 2. If you ever, ever, ever, ever feel your mind start to wander, remember Step 1.”

“Step 3. Whenever you read something in which someone says you’re “too good” for the Cotton Bowl, or “too good”  for the Broncos, kindly refer to Step 2.”

While Western Michigan certainly will not be the best team the Badgers have faced this year analytically, the Broncos are used to winning and a 13-0 has not come handed to them on a silver platter. The Badgers should be proud to be where they are and prepared to face a talented team.

The Badgers and Broncos will face off on January 2nd in Arlington, Texas at noon ET.