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Western Michigan tired of waiting for Wisconsin

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Keion Adams, DE, 6-2, 245: Adams was second-team in the MAC and led the conference in tackles for loss with 18 and led the team in sacks (7.5).  PROJECTION: 7-FA.

Dallas -- Western Michigan doesn't consider itself 13-0 in this one season. It considers itself 1-0 in this year's 13 seasons -- each week representing a single season.

The Broncos were 1-0 in the Northwestern season, 1-0 in the Illinois season, 1-0 in the Ohio season to win the Mid-American Conference, and so on. You get the point.

It's called living in the moment. It's an essential mind set in sports, not getting too far ahead of yourselves.

Still, that's easier said than done, especially now, with Western Michigan not having played a game in nearly four weeks, since that MAC championship game at Ford Field.

By the time Monday afternoon rolls around -- and the matchup against mighty Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium -- the Broncos will have gone exactly 30 days without playing a football game.

Enough, already!

"Of course. Of course," said junior linebacker Robert Spillane, when asked if there comes a point when you get sick of preparing.

"We're football players. We don't like just sitting around and waiting. As amazing an experience as this is, we want to play the game. We're sitting in Cowboys Stadium (the other day) like, 'Come on, why do we have to wait three more days?' Let us play."

Western Michigan beat Ohio, 29-23, at Ford Field on Dec. 2 to move to 13-0. Two days later, it found out it would be the Group of Five representative in the New Year's Six, and be playing in the prestigious Cotton Bowl.

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Ever since, it's been a constant mix of preparation and anticipation.

Spillane said he and his fellow defensive mates have watched on film every single snap Wisconsin's offense has taken. Even in Dallas, where Western Michigan arrived the day after Christmas, it's been still more prep, with multiple practices at Jerry's World, which defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham called "the eighth wonder of the world."

"It's been 30 days since we got to strap up and go against somebody other than our own teammates," freshman safety Justin Tranquill said. "You reach a certain point where you're like, you feel confident and you feel ready, and you're ready to just go out there and let loose."

Spillane said coaches have done a good job over the last several weeks of keeping preparation fresh, and not mind-numbingly boring. It's probably why, in Spillane's estimation, the defense had its finest practice of the season here in Texas the other day.

And there are certainly advantages to the extra prep time, too.

For starters, guys can get fresh, and get healthy, after a long, grueling season. Western Michigan didn't technically have a bye this season, though it did have a couple longer breaks because of the MAC scheduling, which occasionally bounces back and forth between Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. This break also allows the Broncos to get a good long look at what, no question, will be their toughest opponent of the season, a Wisconsin team that's gigantic in size, and 10-3 on the season, with the three losses against three of the top six teams in the country, by just a touchdown each.

If ever there was a time Western Michigan needed more prep time, no offense to the MAC, this was it.

"We need as much practice as we can, just to fine-tune the things that we haven't necessarily fine-tuned, just focusing on the things we can't necessarily get in a regular week of practice," senior defensive end Keion Adams said. "Because a game week is so short.

"Everyone's taking it in as, 'Hey, let's use this time wisely, let's prepare right now while we have the chance so we don't leave any stones unturned.' We are anxious, but just trust in the process."

Adams, of course, is a senior, so leave it to him to be the voice of reason.

He was in Kalamazoo when the Broncos went 1-11 in 2013, so he has a quality perspective in just how far the team has come to now -- ranked 12th in the nation in the Associated Press poll -- and just how important it is to use every second available to prepare for a game like this.

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This is arguably the biggest game in Western Michigan history. A win, and it's likely the Broncos will finish the season ranked in the top 10 in the AP poll.

A win also will give WMU's naysayers -- the College Football Playoff committee never was impressed with its strength of schedule -- and the MAC as a whole a big boost in the cache department.

There will be only two college football games going on at that time, the Florida-Iowa Outback Bowl and the Cotton Bowl. The eyes of much of the nation will be on little old Western Michigan. It may not be used to that, or prepared for that. But that's pretty much all it won't be prepared for.

"We love the feeling of the big stadium, the big lights," Spillane said. "It's not going to be too big for us. We've played at Ohio State (2015), we've played at Virginia Tech (2014).

"You know, we love the bright lights, we love when more people watch. We thrive on that."

COTTON BOWL

Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin

Kickoff: Monday, 1 p.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV/radio: ESPN/WDFN

Records: Western Michigan 13-0, Wisconsin 10-3

Line: Wisconsin by 7.5

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter @tonypaul1984