Rivalry week will be alive and well at Camp Randall Stadium this weekend as No. 22 Minnesota pays a visit to No. 14 Wisconsin.
These teams will be battling for Paul Bunyan’s axe, one of the oldest traveling trophies in the history of college football. Wisconsin has been victorious over Minnesota in the last ten consecutive meetings between the two units, the Golden Gophers not having a victory at Camp Randall since 1994.
This season marks just the fifth time that the two squads have both been ranked in the AP Poll, and while neither team will get a chance at a playoff slot, there is still a lot at stake for both teams.
Both Wisconsin and Minnesota are on the inside track to the B1G West division title, which would earn that team a ticket to Indianapolis to square off against Ohio State for the B1G Championship game.
Minnesota might not have thought a trip to the championship was a feasible feat, but the squad has come together to take on fairly challenging opponents so far this season. For a team that just three short years ago lost 9 out of 12 games, they have made leaps and bounds out on the gridiron.
After a tireless campaign against formidable opponents, the Golden Gophers have shown that their matchup against the Badgers has potential to be a close battle.
The Badgers are favored to close out tomorrows game with at least a two touchdown gap separating them from Minnesota. It won’t cater to Minnesota’s advantage playing at Camp Randall, but their chances have improved astronomically from the beginning of the season.
Minnesota has accomplished a lot, largely due to their defense, which will need to make the appearance of a lifetime against Wisconsin and Heisman frontrunner Melvin Gordon.
But an ironclad defense will not be enough against Wisconsin, the Golden Gophers will need to make a strong showing offensively as well. Quarterback Mitch Leidner will need to be at his peak performance. Leidner has thrown nine touchdown passes and two interceptions in the past seven games he has played where Minnesota has been victorious. In the games they have lost, he has thrown one touchdown and six interceptions. In order for Minnesota to do well, Leidner will need to lead the offense in a way that is profitable, not detrimental.
The offense will be in a vulnerable state if running back David Cobb is not able to join them out on the field, who injured his left hamstring last week against Nebraska. Cobb is the third leading rusher in the B1G, and his status is currently questionable. However, during that matchup against Nebraska, the Golden Gophers were still able to come up with a victory despite trailing on the score board and missing Cobb.
The Gophers were able to run for 281 yards and hold off Ameer Abdullah to just below 100 yards. Those talents will come in handy against Wisconsin and Gordon, who hit the 200-yard mark for the third consecutive game last week against Iowa.
We could talk for a few hours, minimum about Melvin Gordon. He is, with little argument, the best thing Wisconsin has going for them out of the backfield. With a short lived record 408-yard game under his belt, Gordon will be Wisconsin’s key to scoring.
The Badgers defense is currently second in the FBS with an average of 259.3 yards allowed per game, and is ranked third nationally with 162.2 yards passing allowed per game. A strong Wisconsin defense will show up, game faces intact on Saturday against Minnesota.
Wisconsin is an all around powerhouse on both sides of the ball, and that in and of itself should be intimidating to Minnesota. While the Golden Gophers have a chance at rivalry bragging rights for the following year, it is more likely that that 124th meeting of the most played series in the FBS will end in a Badger victory.
*Section Photo credit to Joe Robbins, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports