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Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Football Prediction and Preview

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Football Prediction and Preview

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Prediction and Preview

After ending its long losing streak to the Wisconsin Badgers last season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers looks to make it two in a row in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe on Saturday.

But this year there is more on the line than simply getting to hoist a giant axe in the air. The winner this weekend gets to book travel arrangements to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game next week. The Badgers (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) are more than familiar with playing in the Big Ten title game — they've played in five of the eight previous editions — but the Gophers (10-1, 7-1) are looking to get there for the first time.

P.J. Fleck has earned consideration for Coach of the Year honors in the Big Ten and nationally, but Paul Chryst continues to have Wisconsin steadily competing for another division title. The styles and flairs of the coaches and programs may differ, but the hatred between the two programs is mutual. This should be one bitter battle for the right to face Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Wisconsin at Minnesota

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 30 at 3:30 p.m ET

TV: ABC

Spread: Wisconsin -2.5

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When Wisconsin Has the Ball

Running back Jonathan Taylor has a shot at a 2,000-yard rushing season. Coming into the week with 1,685 yards already under his belt, Taylor needs just 315 yards to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. With 170 more yards, he'll move into sixth place on the FBS career rushing list, while 389 yards will put him in fifth. Last year against the Gophers, Taylor rushed for 120 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.

One area where Minnesota has improved this season has been against the run, as the Gophers have cut their rushing yards allowed by about 50 yards per game. It's not a secret to suggest Minnesota will do anything and everything possible to limit the damage done by Taylor. Taylor may get his yards, but preventing him from breaking loose for a big run will be the focus of the Minnesota defense. Taylor leads the Big Ten with 59 plays of 10 or more yards, 12 ahead of second-place J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State.

While the Wisconsin passing game hasn't been the most explosive in the conference, quarterback Jack Coan has been fairly efficient this season. Coan leads the Big Ten in completion rate (72.7 percent) and has thrown just four interceptions all season. The Gophers will try to force Coan to make those rare mistakes. Minnesota's 14 interceptions are tied with Ohio State for the Big Ten lead.

When Minnesota Has the Ball

The Gophers are more than capable of pulling off some big plays. While Jonathan Taylor leads the conference in plays of 10 yards or more, Minnesota's receiving duo of Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson are third and fourth, respectively. Bateman's 17 plays of 20 yards or more are tied for the Big Ten lead as well. That's why it makes perfect sense why quarterback Tanner Morgan has been having as solid a year as he has. Morgan has thrown 26 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Having two top receivers makes the job easier to handle, even if Morgan has not been intimidated by opposing defenses.

Wisconsin will have to find ways to pressure Morgan and the Gophers just like Iowa managed to at times a couple of weeks ago. Wisconsin ranks fourth nationally with 39 sacks this season, so that will only be expected. Linebackers Chris Orr and Zack Baun will continue to find gaps in the line of scrimmage to help create pressure up the middle or on the outside. Orr has a team-high 11.0 sacks, and Baun isn't far behind at 9.5. Minnesota is only tied for 83rd at preventing sacks, having given up 25, so Morgan could be under some distress in this one.

Final Analysis

Minnesota has the offense it needs to do some damage against one of the more stable defensive teams in the Big Ten. They have a running game that can be serviceable enough to complement a terrific passing game. They also have the home-field advantage and the confidence knowing they can beat Wisconsin after doing it in Madison last season. The Badgers may be the road favorite here, but there could be some magic in the air for the Gophers with a long-awaited division title within reach. Tanner Morgan getting in rhythm with Rashod Bateman will be the key, and a couple of big receptions by Minnesota's top receiver in the fourth quarter will help send Minnesota to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.

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Prediction: Minnesota 26, Wisconsin 23

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.