There's plenty at stake on Saturday afternoon between two Big Ten West foes as the Wisconsin Badgers ride a seven-game win streak to take on the Minnesota Gophers for the Paul Bunyan Trophy and a spot in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game.
Here are the scenarios for how the Big Ten West will be determined this weekend.
Big Ten West Standings:
- Wisconsin (6-2)
- Iowa (6-2)
- Minnesota (5-3)
- Purdue (5-3)
- A Wisconsin win makes the Badgers Big Ten West Champions.
- Wisconsin loss means the Badgers would need Iowa to lose and Indiana to defeat Purdue on the road. If Purdue loses, the Boilermakers would be 5-4 and out of the picture, leaving a three-way 6-3 tie between Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Wisconsin wins West in this scenario as well.
- If Minnesota beats Wisconsin, AND Nebraska beats Iowa, AND Purdue beats Indiana, there would be a four-way tie at 6-3, and the Gophers would win the West.
- Lose to Wisconsin and Minnesota is eliminated from the race.
Got all that?
No. 14 Wisconsin at Minnesota
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 27 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -7
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
Wisconsin's turnaround this season starts and ends with true freshman running back Braelon Allen. Seven wins in a row, and now seven straight games in which Allen has topped 100 rushing yards. Still just 17 years old, Allen has now rushed for 401 yards and six touchdowns the last two weeks since starter Chez Mellusi went down with a season-ending leg injury, averaging over eight yards a carry in that span. Saturday will present Allen's most difficult challenge to date, facing a Minnesota defense that ranks third in the conference against the run, allowing just 103.6 yards per game, and has held five opponents this season under 80 yards.
Allen has spearheaded the win streak, but the play of quarterback Graham Mertz also has turned around since Wisconsin's 1-3 start to the year. Seven of Mertz's nine touchdown passes on the season have come in the last month, and the junior quarterback is completing well over 60 percent of his passes over the stretch. Against Nebraska, Mertz was proficient again, completing 12 of 18 attempts for 145 yards and zero turnovers.
The Gophers rank 13th in the country, giving up just 185.9 yards per game through the air, but have forced just six interceptions, three of which have come from cornerback Tyler Nubin. Also keep an eye on linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin, who has 75 tackles, three passes defended, two forced fumbles, and an interception.
When Minnesota Has the Ball
It is quite an accomplishment what the Gophers have been able to do on offense this year despite losing their top two rushers to season-ending injuries, including a possible Heisman candidate coming into the year in Mohamed Ibrahim. Ky Thomas, a 3-star freshman, continues to impress with every passing week, having topped 100 rushing yards in four out of the last five games, including 106 yards and two scores in the blowout win over Indiana last Saturday. A lot of credit is due to Minnesota's experienced offensive line that continues to play at a high level no matter who is in the backfield.
For Minnesota to have a shot on Saturday, quarterback Tanner Morgan needs to have his best performance of the season because running yards don't come easy against this Badgers defense. Morgan had his best outing of the year last week against Indiana with 196 passing yards and two touchdowns but has failed to top 200 yards passing in all but two games in 2021.
Wisconsin's front seven gets the headlines, but the secondary has played as well as anyone in the Big Ten, allowing just eight passing touchdowns on the year. The Badgers' secondary will be looking to rebound after allowing a season-high 351 passing yards to Nebraska.
This should ultimately end up being a close, competitive contest given what is at stake for both teams. But the Badgers get the edge here, as they possess the best unit on the field with the Wisconsin defense, facing the worst unit in the Minnesota offense. The Gophers will struggle to run on the Badgers' top-ranked run defense, and we don't have evidence this season that the Minnesota passing offense is good enough to win a game by itself.
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 14
Podcast: Week 13 Preview, Predictions, and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.