It happened again. Okay, that’s a simple phrase, and it is applicable to a number of things coming out of Week 12.

“It” in this case can refer to another loss to Iowa (8 straight wins for the Hawkeyes and an 0-6 mark for PJ Fleck in the series). “It” also can reference another blown shot at grabbing control in the B1G West.

Things in Minneapolis under Fleck have been a smashing success. The Gophers have also failed to prove they can be a legitimate contender in the division and the conference as a whole. Both of these things can be true.

Following the loss to Iowa, Minnesota is now 7-4 on the year heading into the huge rivalry matchup against Wisconsin. The Gophers are also effectively out of the B1G race and are jockeying for postseason bowl positioning alone.

While it’s tempting to simply look at the upcoming Axe game as a shot at bragging rights alone, there are some deeper themes in play for Week 13. Take a look at 3 particular things the Gophers will be playing for this weekend.

PJ Fleck’s 3rd win vs. the Badgers

Already, PJ Fleck is 2-3 in head-to-head games against the Badgers. While he is playing to get back to .500 in the series, Fleck is the first Minnesota head coach with multiple wins in the rivalry since Glen Mason registered wins in 2001 and 2003. Jim Wacker also registered a pair of wins for Minnesota in 1993-94, but getting to 3 wins in the rivalry is a particularly high bar for the Gophers.

To find the last Minnesota coach to get to 3 wins against Wisconsin, you have to go all the way back to the late 1980s. That coach would be John Gutekunst. Despite finishing his tenure at Minnesota with a 29-37-2 overall record, Gutekunst was particularly effective against the Badgers.

From 1986-91, Gutekunst finished 4-2 head-to-head against Wisconsin in the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Regardless of your stance on Fleck, getting his 3rd victory in the rivalry would be an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Back-to-back wins vs. Wisconsin

It’s no secret rivalry wins mean a little bit more. That’s what makes recent history in this game hard to swallow for Gopher fans.

Going back to the year 2000, Minnesota has 4 total wins in the Axe game. The Gophers are also still searching for a winning streak in the game this millennium.

To find back-to-back wins against the Badgers, you would have to go all the way back to 1993-94 when Jim Wacker produced 2 straight wins for Minnesota. Unfortunately, Wacker would finish his tenure with a 16-39 overall record and a 2-3 mark against Wisconsin.

PJ Fleck has been a much more consistent presence than Wacker, and it would be a great time to prove he can build a streak against the Badgers.

Back-to-back 9-win seasons

Entering Week 13 with a 7-4 record, Minnesota maintains a shot at 9 wins. It would take a win over the Badgers and a win in bowl season, but that is not out of the question, considering Fleck is 3-0 in bowl games for the Gophers. How impressive would that accomplishment be?

The last time Minnesota finished with 9 wins in back-to-back seasons was the turn of the century. No, not 2000. 1900. As in 1900-05, a stretch that saw the Gophers go 65-4-5.

Since 1905, Minnesota has never produced back-to-back 9-win seasons. If not for the COVID season in 2020, the Gophers may have already accomplished this feat under Fleck.

As it stands, Minnesota has produced 11 wins in 2019 followed by 3 wins in 2020 and 9 wins in 2021. While the ultimate grade of Fleck’s remains positive, reaching the 9-win plateau in back-to-back seasons would be another feather in his cap to build on for 2023 and beyond.