The Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has a lot at stake this season.
This year’s version of the rivalry game will go down between top-15 opponents. Minnesota moved up to No. 8 on the latest College Football Playoff Rankings while Wisconsin checked in at No. 12. The winner of the game will also capture the B1G West and head to Indianapolis.
During Tuesday’s reveal show for the CFP Rankings, ESPN’s crew of college football analysts gave some early thoughts on the contest. Jesse Palmer started by highlighting what Minnesota’s defense needs to do against Wisconsin’s ground game:
“Tackling, and the ability to stop the run. Jonathan Taylor comes into this game rushing for over 200 yards in his last three games. Tackling was the issue [for Minnesota] when they lost to Iowa,” said Palmer.
For Joey Galloway, he saw mental miscues in Minnesota’s loss this season:
“The other thing Minnesota did in their one loss was they dropped passes and had penalties,” said Galloway.
Greg McElroy touched on the Gophers and said they will need to create some big plays, especially against a tough Wisconsin pass rush. That may be tough to do in expected snowy conditions:
“I think that’s the key, big plays. You look at Wisconsin and they’re going to take their shots,” said McElroy. “They’re going to get pressure on the quarterback, so you’ve got to create chunk yardage.”
For Kirk Herbstreit, he also sees a need for the Badgers to take some risks offensively. It’s great that they have a strong rushing attack, but that alone won’t be enough for a rivalry showdown:
“You can’t come into a rivalry game and just run. …I think you’ll see this week, even with the conditions of snow and potentially freezing rain, that they’re going to try to come up with some things and make that defense try to respect,” explained Herbstreit.
Who comes out on top for the Axe? Saturday’s kickoff is set for 3:30 pm EST on ABC.