The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers will square off this Saturday in Madison in what will be the 130th meeting all-time between the two programs. The Badgers have the slightest edge in the series, leading it 61-60-8. But it's the Gophers, however, who have the edge in the win column so far this season. Minnesota is 3-3 and looking to end the regular season above .500, while the Badgers have struggled to a 2-3 mark during this pandemic-shortened campaign.
Be that as it may, records will go out the window when these two Big Ten division rivals meet up in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe on Saturday. This game was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend before getting postponed so at least the unusual circumstances surrounding this season have allowed for a second shot at keeping this game's status as FBS' most-played rivalry (dating back to 1890) intact. And since it's a rivalry, even with both teams not playing up to expectations, this edition shouldn't disappoint.
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 19 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Wisconsin -12.5
When Minnesota Has the Ball
The Gopher offense has run through running back Mohamed Ibrahim all season long. Ibrahim has emerged as both the top running back in the Big Ten and one of the biggest surprises in all of college football in 2020. He has carried the ball 175 times for 925 yards (5.3 ypc) and 15 touchdowns. He has a great shot at hitting the 1,000-yard mark during this game, as he has gone over 100 yards in every game this season. Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck has no issues sticking with Ibraham and the run game, even when things aren't going well. He wants to keep the clock moving and wear down the Badger defense.
When the Gophers do go to the air, quarterback Tanner Morgan's favorite target is likely going to be wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell. The junior has 100 catches for 211 yards in his last two games, stepping up as Minnesota's go-to receiver since Rashod Bateman opted out of the season. Moving the ball against this defense will be hard no matter how Minnesota attacks; Wisconsin ranks third nationally against the run (83.2 ypg) and fifth against the pass (167.8 ypg).
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
The Badgers have struggled on offense as of late, but when things have worked for them in 2020, it was the passing attack that carried the offense. Freshman quarterback Graham Mertz stormed out of the gates early on with eight touchdown passes in his first three outings. Head coach Paul Chryst would like to see his team regain that effectiveness through the air this weekend.
Tight end Jake Ferguson has been the most consistent offensive weapon for the Badgers this season, logging 26 receptions for 249 yards and four scores. The Badgers also return wide receiver Danny Davis this week. He figures to be a prominent part of the passing attack as well. When the Badgers go to the run game, they'll be without leading rusher Jalen Berger again, meaning Wisconsin will lean on the duo of Nakia Watson and Garrett Groshek to get those tough yards on the ground.
Wisconsin is the heavy favorite heading into the weekend, but that means very little this season. Just last weekend, the Gophers went into Lincoln, Nebraska, at double-digit underdogs, down a couple of dozen players, and came away with a win. Minnesota appears rested and battle-hardened at this point in the season. It looks like P.J. Fleck finally fully understands what this version of the Gophers excels at, and he'll put them in a position to have success as a result. Minnesota appears to have both momentum and motivation on its side. After starting 0-2, the Gophers now have a shot to wrap up the regular season with a winning record, and I expect them to do exactly that.
Prediction: Minnesota 27, Wisconsin 20
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.