Badgers-Gophers rivalry gets boost as both teams good
NOV 19, 2013 10:05a ET
MADISON, Wis. -- There is history and tradition that is impossible to escape when it comes to the Wisconsin-Minnesota football rivalry. Playing 122 times over the years and introducing a traveling trophy tends to create its share of lasting memories.
But there also have been a fair share of one-sided victories for Wisconsin in recent years. The Badgers have won the past three games alone by a combined 72 points. That's mostly because, well, Minnesota hasn't been all that good.
Saturday, however, will represent a refreshing change and provide the latest twist in a century-old border battle. For the first time since 2005, both teams enter the game as nationally ranked foes.
"They're 8-2," Badgers senior linebacker Chris Borland said. "It's the first time this has been a ranked team versus a ranked team in my time here. We love it. That adds a lot to it. It makes it even more meaningful."
Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 in Big Ten play), ranked No. 19 in the latest BCS standings, will travel to face BCS No. 25 Minnesota (8-2, 4-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota hadn't won at least eight games since 2003, when it finished 10-3 under Glen Mason and won the Sun Bowl. That was also the last year the Gophers beat the Badgers.
The Gophers have reached this point on the strength of four consecutive victories, including a surprising triumph at Northwestern and home wins against Nebraska and Penn State. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has reeled off five straight wins since a 31-24 defeat at Ohio State back on Sept. 28.
The improved play from both teams helps add intrigue to a game that could now have major implications in the BCS bowl race for Wisconsin. The Badgers need to jump five spots over their final two games to position themselves for a possible at-large berth in a BCS game. Otherwise, Wisconsin's likely destination will be either the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl.
Wisconsin players aren't thinking that far ahead just yet. Instead, they're simply intent on maintaining control of Paul Bunyan's Axe, which was created by Wisconsin's letterwinners’ organization back in 1948 and has gone to the winning team each season.
Wisconsin has won nine consecutive games in the series, prevailing by an average score of 39-15. And early Las Vegas point spreads put Wisconsin as a 16-point favorite, even though this is Minnesota's best team in a decade.
"I can't even remember the last time that we didn’t have the axe," Badgers nose guard Beau Allen said. "And that's just a testament to what we've had going on here. We're kind of spoiled that way I guess. We would like to keep that. I've had it all throughout my career here. You get so used to it being in the locker room. I can't even imagine what that empty trophy case would mean. So we're going to fight so it's not like that. We're going to hold onto it."
Added UW quarterback Joel Stave: "It's been so many years since we haven’t had it that you'd hate to be the group to lose it."
It is tradition that the senior class takes turns chopping down the goal post with the axe after a victory. This year's senior group at Wisconsin is especially big with 22 players, which could mean several Badgers would need to fight for time with the axe if they win on the road.
"We'll just stay out there longer," Borland said.
This season marks Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen's first foray into the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry, though his days as an assistant at Utah and head coach at Utah State taught him plenty about what it means to prepare for a game of this magnitude. Utah, Utah State and BYU play for the Beehive Boot for intrastate supremacy, while Utah State and BYU play for the Old Wagon Wheel.
This week, the axe is up for grabs again. And this time, there is more on the line than usual.
"Rivalries that have gone on for this long have so many stories behind them, so many moments behind them," Andersen said. "It's what I'm used to. It's what's great about college football, in my opinion. I love playing it this late in the year. It just makes it that much more special."
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