After Saturday’s loss in the Big Ten Championship, Wisconsin (7-2 Big Ten, 10-3 overall) still found itself in a New Year's Six bowl when the bids were announced Sunday. The Badgers’ opponent will be the undefeated No. 12 Western Michigan Broncos (8-0, 13-0) in the Cotton Bowl.
WMU, the MAC champion, received a berth in the New Year’s Six courtesy of a rule that allows for the highest ranked non-Power Five conference champion to receive an automatic bid. Wisconsin made its way in as an at-large bid for a highly ranked team that doesn’t win its conference.
“I'm excited for our players to have the opportunity to be a part of a game with the long and storied history like the Cotton Bowl has," UW head coach Paul Chryst said to UWBadgers.com.
The Broncos are by no means a typical football powerhouse. In last year’s Bahamas Bowl, WMU picked up its first bowl win in school history. Making that win more improbable is that in head coach P.J. Fleck’s first season, three years prior, the team went a dismal 1-11.
Western Michigan has been widely talked about all season, with more and more attention paid the longer they stayed undefeated. WMU is one of two undefeated teams headed into bowl play, the other being No. 1 Alabama.
With Wisconsin playing, this will be the third-straight season where a Big Ten team is playing in the Cotton Bowl. Michigan State played in both, beating Baylor in January 2015, and losing to Alabama in the playoff in December 2015.
The Badgers face a peculiar challenge in this game that is essentially a lose-lose scenario in the minds of many: A win would be chalked up as beating a lesser team, and a loss would be a loss to an inferior team.
The Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas, will kick off at 6 p.m. Jan. 2.