If someone told you that the Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Gophers would face off with matching 8-2 records and both be ranked in the BCS Standings, you probably would have slapped them and told them to go back to the one of the 10,000 lakes that they may be from.
All joking aside, the #19 Badgers and #25 Gophers are two of the hottest teams in college football right now and the 2013 Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has huge implications on the bowl outlook for the Big Ten.
Minnesota Gophers (8-2) Analysis: The Gophers have been on fire, winning their previous four games against conference foes before enjoying a bye last week. Minnesota’s biggest edge against the Badgers will be trying to end a nine-year drought without the Axe and knocking off a Wisconsin team who many think is the Big Ten’s second best team.
Minnesota hangs their hat on a defense that doesn’t emphasize playmakers (mostly because they don’t have any), but rather a unit that has played together as a team very well. They rank fifth in the conference (36th nationally) while allowing 23.4 points per game. Against the run-heavy Badgers, their run defense will be the focus and this team has given up over 200 yards only once and that was 227 yards to Indiana.
There’s also nothing flashy about Minnesota’s offense. They run the ball at a successful rate (218.5 yards per game) and are downright dreadful through the air (149.4 yards per game). An effective way to look at their offense is that of the Wisconsin Badgers without the explosive playmakers they have in Melvin Gordon, James White and Jared Abbrederis. Sophomore Philip Nelson is their quarterback and has proven to be an adequate game manger for a team that’s fantastic in the red-zone.
Wisconsin Badgers (8-2) Analysis: The Badgers are rolling through college football opponents like a freight train that can’t be stopped. Since losing at Ohio State, Wisconsin has racked up five straight wins that have all come by double-digit margins. If there’s any team that the Badgers can’t stand losing to, Minnesota would be that team.
Talking about the Badgers offense is basically an opportunity to show off some ridiculous stat about their running backs. This week won’t be any different as we mention that Melvin Gordon (1,306 yards) and James White (1,156 yards) are the only pair of backs in the country to be over 1,000 yards on the same team. Gordon and White wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it wasn’t for an offensive line that has been exceptional in 2013. A Wisconsin offensive line playing amazing football has become the norm and they just don’t receive enough credit.
Wisconsin shows off their muscles with a power running game, but where they’ve impressed the most this season is on defense. They boast the 5th ranked scoring defense in the nation at 14.0 points per game and have most recently held BYU and Indiana’s high paced offenses to a total of 20 points. Linebacker Chris Borland is one of the most instinctive players in the country and is fresh off back-to-back games with double-digit tackles. The Gophers are going to have a hard time finding running lanes with this guy flying around the middle of the field.
Brutally Honest Prediction: Wisconsin 35 Minnesota 10
The most played rivalry in all of FBS hasn’t been much of a competition the last nine years – Wisconsin has scored an average of 39.1 to Minnesota’s 15.2. While Minnesota has narrowly slipped by their recent competition, the Badgers have decisively beat everyone they’ve played, covering the spread in ten straight games. I expect the Gophers to be more motivated for this game, but the Badgers are impossible to pick against right now.
TV Coverage: 2:35 PM CT ESPN; Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analyst) and Tom Luginbill (sidelines)
Betting Lines: Wisconsin favored by 15.5 points and the over/under set at 50 points.
2013 Record straight up: 9-1
2013 Record against the spread: 5-5
2013 Record in over/under: 6-3
*no over/under for Tennessee Tech game
Last week redux: Picked Badgers to win 41-21 over Indiana (they actually won 51-3). Hit straight up and over/under (70), but not against the spread (-21.5).
Is there any possible way the Gophers reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe or are the Badgers unstoppable right now? Let me know by commenting below.
Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys sharing Fantasy Advice and pretends to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at email@example.com.
*Pictures obtained from buckeyextra.dispatch.com and thetimes-tribune.com.