Saturday, December 3, 2016

Broncos complete the perfect regular season, but left out of the College Football Playoff

                             Photo Credit: Kenneth Bailey

Being an undefeated team after a full season would usually ensure security as one of four teams in the College Football Playoff or 1 vs 2 in the old BCS National Championship Game (1998-2014).

Since 1998, 13 teams have finished the regular season undefeated and failed to make it into the national title game. NOTE: The 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes finished 12-0, but were ineligible for a bowl game to due NCAA sanctions.

Here are the previous 12 teams’ regular season records and bowl results:

1998 Tulane Green Wave, 11-0 regular season

W vs BYU at the Liberty Bowl, 41-27

1999 Marshall Thundering Herd, 12-0 regular season

W vs BYU at the Motor City Bowl, 21-3

2004 Utah Utes, 11-0 regular season

W vs Pittsburgh at the Fiesta Bowl, 35-7

2004 Auburn Tigers, 12-0 regular season

W vs Virginia Tech at the Sugar Bowl, 16-13

2004 Boise State Broncos, 11-0 regular season

L vs Louisville at the Liberty Bowl, 44-40

2006 Boise State Broncos, 12-0 regular season

W vs Oklahoma at the Fiesta Bowl, 43-42

2007 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, 12-0 regular season

L vs Georgia at the Sugar Bowl, 41-10

2008 Boise State Broncos, 12-0 regular season

L vs TCU at the Poinsettia Bowl, 17-16

2009 Boise State Broncos, 13-0 regular season

W vs TCU at the Fiesta Bowl, 17-10

2009 Cincinnati Bearcats, 12-0 regular season

L vs Florida at the Sugar Bowl, 51-24

2009 TCU Horned Frogs, 12-0 regular season

L vs TCU at the Fiesta Bowl, 17-10

2010 TCU Horned Frogs, 12-0 regular season

W vs Wisconsin at the Rose Bowl, 21-19

Enter the 2016 Western Michigan Broncos and their 13-0 regular season mark:

In a 29-23 win over the Ohio Bobcats in Friday night’s Mid-American Conference championship game in front of a record 45, 615 fans in Detroit, the Western Michigan Broncos became the 13th team since 1998 to not get a shot to play in the College Football Playoff/BCS National Championship.

Despite being ranked at No. 17, the Broncos proved their value from the get-go with two turnovers in as many as Bobcats possessions to begin the game.

The turnovers helped set the tone early for WMU, but Ohio’s defense answered the challenge as three field goal makes from Butch Hampton (42, 27, 21) would be the points WMU mustered in the first half.

With Ohio struggling to muster any movement on offense, Greg Windham would be inserted in place of Quinton Maxwell and the dividends paid off on the first play with a 67-yard bomb to Papi White, which set up an eight-yard touchdown reception to Jordan Reid to quiet the pro-WMU crowd.

Similar to most of its wins this season, Western’s speed and depth showed and the next drive proved to be the case as star receiver Corey Davis turned the car into drag racing mode with a 70-yard reception down the sidelines to put WMU back up by nine.

As the Broncos appeared to have the game in a cruise control with an additional touchdown to end the first half, the start of the second half saw a slight downshift as Terrell threw an interception to Ohio’s Brad Ellis and took it to the WMU five-yard line. One play later, Windham found the connection with Reid once more for a five-yard TD to pull to within 10 after missing the extra point.

Hampton’s 33-yard field goal make kept WMU ahead by 13 until Windham responded on the next drive with a 31-yard touchdown reception to White as Ohio continued to rub close enough at 26-20 with 2:14 left in the third quarter.

A three and out by the Western Michigan defense in the early stages of the fourth quarter could not be capitalized as Terrell overthrew his receiver and Kylan Nelson capitalized with the INT to give Ohio a prime shot at conquering the undefeated streak of Western.

After a red-zone threat from WMU’s defense managed a stop and forced Ohio to a 37-yard field goal with 7:14 left in regulation.

Western Michigan’s Robert Spillane came up with the game-winning interception with 51 seconds left to save the undefeated regular season. Spillane also began the season with an INT in a 21-20 win at Northwestern and felt like everything came full circle.

“It's only fitting that Robert Spillane strips the ball at Northwestern to make us 10,” Fleck said. “At the goal line he rips the ball lose, and Robert Spillane ends the story, ends the book of the regular season with a pick.  Only fitting.” 

From 1-11 three seasons ago, to the likely Group of Five representative in the Cotton Bowl, Fleck will go right back on the recruiting trail immediately.

“We've just come such a long way,” Fleck said. “Again, it's for our community. It's for the '66 team, it's for the '88 team, '16 team, past Broncos, current Broncos, future Broncos.  It's an historic day in Western Michigan's history and we deserve to be in the goshdarn Cotton Bowl, period.  Write it down.”

Fleck knows the work is done in the regular season, but will the College Football Playoff committee take note? Sunday afternoon will provide the ultimate answer.

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