Not only is Paul Bunyan’s Axe at stake, but a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game is on the line this weekend when the no. 8 Minnesota Golden Gophers host the no. 12 Wisconsin Badgers in a fierce rivalry game. The fun gets started at 3:30 EST on Saturday, November 30 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The game will be nationally televised on ABC.
According to the Week 14 college football odds, the Badgers are 2.5-point favorites on the road. The over/under for the game is set at 47.5 points.
The Golden Gophers saw their dream of an undefeated season come to an end a couple of weeks ago against Iowa. However, Minnesota was able to bounce back quickly with a win over Northwestern last week. The Gophers still have everything to play for, as a win would put them in the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time.
If Minnesota were to win their first Big Ten title since 1967, they would have a compelling argument for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Just going to the Big Ten Championship Game would put the Gophers in a position to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game, something they haven’t done since the 1961 Rose Bowl. In other words, there’s a lot at stake in this game and a win on Saturday would surely make this a dream season for Minnesota.
Of course, Wisconsin isn’t just going to roll over and give Minnesota the West Division. The Badgers have bounced back from losses to Illinois and Ohio State to win three in a row and keep their conference title hopes alive. Wisconsin has beaten the likes of Iowa, Nebraska, and Purdue in recent weeks, and can win the Big Ten West if they beat Minnesota.
The Badgers have been to the Big Ten Championship Game in three of the last five years, falling short on all three occasions. Wisconsin hasn’t won a conference title since 2012, and despite a blowout loss to Ohio State earlier this year, the Badgers would love to get a second shot at the Buckeyes.
This might be the most meaningful Wisconsin-Minnesota game in the history of this rivalry. That’s saying something, as this is the most-played rivalry game in college football at the FBS level. The teams have met 128 times with both schools winning 60 games apiece with eight ties.
Wisconsin managed to overtake the all-time series lead with a 14-game winning streak over the Gophers. However, Minnesota tied it back up with a stunning 37-15 win over the Badgers in Madison last year. Not only will the winner of this game reach the Big Ten title game, but they will also have the all-time lead in this rivalry, at least for a year. Of course, snapping their 14-game losing streak to Wisconsin on the road last year means the Gophers haven’t given their home fans a win over the Badgers since 2003.
In a game this close on paper and with so much on the line, I have to go with old reliable, and that’s Wisconsin. I know the Badgers lost to Minnesota last year and I know the Gophers beat Penn State at home and nearly toppled Iowa as well. But I still feel more comfortable leaning toward Wisconsin to win by at least a field goal and covering the spread.
At this point in the season, running the ball means everything in the Big Ten. Minnesota, unfortunately, has struggled to do that against top teams. They got just enough against Penn State but managed a mere 63 rushing yards on 30 carries against Iowa. I respect all that quarterback Tanner Morgan has accomplished this year, but the Gophers need to run the ball effectively in this game, and they just haven’t proven they can do that against high-level defenses.
The Wisconsin defense surely qualifies as a high-level defense. To be fair, they’ve had some minor setbacks after shutting out four of their first six opponents. But outside of a couple of games this season, they’ve managed to stop their opponents from establishing a productive running game. I think the Badgers are good enough to make that stand up against Minnesota.
Meanwhile, I have no doubt that the Badgers can continue to run the ball effectively. Jonathan Taylor is a legitimate Heisman candidate who has close to 1,700 yards in 11 games this year. He was held in check against Ohio State, but he’s rushed for over 200 yards in three straight games since that loss. The Minnesota defense has been good but not great at defending the run this season. I’m not sure they have the muscle upfront to hold their own against the Wisconsin offensive line and rushing attack.
I’ll admit that this game is more or less a coin flip. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either team win, especially since Minnesota is home and has the better quarterback. However, I think Wisconsin is more reliable when it comes to running the ball and stopping the run. Those two things tend to make the difference during Big Ten games in November, which is why I’m leaning toward the Badgers to win and cover.