Gophers stand between Badgers and Big Ten title game
MADISON, Wisc. — In the middle of October, Wisconsin's football season looked headed toward a subpar season with a 1-2 record in the Big Ten Conference after a stellar start.
Sure, the Badgers lost those two conference games to No. 4 Michigan by seven points on the road and to No. 2 Ohio State in overtime in Madison, but projections for another strong season looked bleak with games against Iowa and Nebraska in consecutive weeks looming.
And they had quarterback questions with freshman Alex Hornibrook taking over the starting job at Michigan.
“When we looked at our schedule, we knew there wasn't a game that we couldn't win,” Hornibrook said. “We felt we could win every one of them.”
Now the Badgers are knocking on the door of the Big Ten title game.
They've won five straight games heading into Saturday's showdown against Minnesota on Senior Day at Camp Randall Stadium, are ranked No. 5 in the country and at 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten West, they have to win one more game to ensure a spot in the Big Ten title game on Dec. 3.
Wisconsin can clinch the division crown Friday if Iowa beats Nebraska, and if Minnesota beats Wisconsin on Saturday, the Badgers would still win the division due to a four-way tie with Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. The Badgers have beaten Minnesota 12 straight times.
“The end of the season's feeling closer, with Senior Day coming up,” UW running back Dare Ogunbowale said. “I wouldn't say that anything is different, as in the postseason or anything like that. We know we have to beat Minnesota for all that stuff to (ring) true, so we're going to make sure we go out and do that.”
The Badgers are one of three Big Ten teams, including Michigan and Ohio State, ranked in the top five. The Badgers are ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press poll. Take care of business, and the Badgers in playing in the conference title game in Indianapolis and have a shot at a berth in the college playoffs.
“I had the personal and our team had the goal of getting (to the Big Ten title game),” Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel said. “We still have one more game before that happens. We cannot overlook a talented Minnesota offense and team. They're hungry for a win against us. It's a trophy game. It's a border battle. A lot of storylines. A lot of things on the line in this game.”
Minnesota (8-3) could position itself for a better-than-expected bowl bid if the Golden Gophers win the border rivalry. Saturday will be the 126th meeting between the two programs, marking the most-played rivalry in the FBS.
Minnesota has won five of its last six games.
“I know it's always special in this game,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “I've been lucky to go the Minnesota/Wisconsin game with my dad, just me and him in the stands, and then when he was coaching. I got a chance to be a part of it as a player, and then as a coach here.”
Wisconsin hasn't thrived on offense, but it has been consistent for the most part.
Hornibrook is a quiet but effective leader and quarterback. He has completed 100 of his 171 passes, but has thrown seven interceptions and eight touchdowns. He enters the Minnesota game looking to lead the Badgers into the Big Ten title game. He must keep his emotions under check during Senior Day, and not try and force the issue and stay away from turnovers.
A big reason he should stay calm is Corey Clement, who has topped the 1,000-yard mark to raise his season total to 1,040 yards, becoming the 17th player in school history to hit the 1,000-yard mark in a season. His running has been key in Wisconsin's five-game winning streak, and with the division title at state, look for him to have plenty of carries against Minnesota.