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Wisconsin-Minnesota Rivalry Has Extra Importance With West Division Title Implications

Gary Andersen

Gary Andersen

The Big Ten is full of great rivalry games and trophies. One of them is Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which goes to the winner of the Wisconsin-Minnesota game each season. This year, the iconic axe will take a back seat to the ultimate prize to the winner of this week’s rivalry game between the Badgers and Gophers. The Big Ten West Division championship will be decided in this year’s game, with the winner advancing to the Big Ten Championship Game to take on Ohio State, the champions of the East Division.

Wisconsin was always expected to be in this position, as the Badgers have played in two Big Ten championship games and feature a Heisman Trophy caliber running back in Melvin Gordon and a solid defense. The Badgers were preseason favorites to battle for the Big Ten’s West Division. After demolishing Nebraska two weeks ago the Badgers looked to be a clear favorite in the division. That remains true, but now there is a formidable opponent in Minnesota.

The Gophers have been one of the pleasant surprises in the Big Ten and around the nation this season. There may still be some work to be done before the Gophers are a real threat in the Big Ten on a regular basis, but the ingredients appear to be there this season to give any team a run for their money in Big Ten play. This Minnesota team dominated Michigan to win the Little Brown Jug and won close calls against Northwestern and Purdue. Minnesota was upset at Illinois, letting one get away from them on the road, but the Gophers stormed back in a big way with a blowout of Iowa the following week. The question was whether or not Minnesota had run into a wall at the end of the season, ready to burst the bubble on a fun ride.

The Gophers were unable to pull the upset on Ohio State on the snow, as J.T. Barrett went off in a big way against the Minnesota defense, but Minnesota rose to the occasion on the road against Nebraska to set-up one of the biggest battles for Paul Bunyan’s Axe the rivalry series has seen in a long time.

Wisconsin has won 10 in a row against Minnesota. The Badgers appear to be the team better prepared for this situation. Wisconsin will be playing at home. Everything about this game looks to suggest Wisconsin will have the edge on Minnesota, and maybe they will. But if there is anything to be learned about Jerry Kill’s Gophers, it is they do not back down to a challenge.

After winning on the road against Nebraska and blowing away Iowa, there should be no doubt this Minnesota team will be ready to challenge Wisconsin for the Big Ten West crown on Saturday. This should be fun.

- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)