Wisconsin can now focus on Paul Bunyan's Axe and B1G West title
No lapses, no missteps, no hiccups.
Wisconsin was expected to mop the floor with Illinois and Purdue in its last two contests and it’s done just that.
the last two weeks, it would’ve been easy for Wisconsin to play disinterested, just going through the motions until the season finale against Minnesota in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. That’s the only game that has really had the chance to derail the Badgers’ quest for its fourth appearance in the B1G Championship Game.
Ever since a 23-17 overtime win over Nebraska on Oct. 30, everyone had anointed the Badgers as the champs of the West. It became even more certain after snapping a two-game losing streak to Northwestern a week later in Evanston. Since that contest, Wisconsin has had consecutive match-ups with Illinois and Purdue, which occupy the sixth and seventh positions in the West and are two of the worst power conference teams in the country.
Not particularly. Sure, the words might’ve been tossed around the over the past few weeks, but it was really a way to keep Wisconsin fans interested for a few Saturdays. A 48-3 win over Illinois and beating Purdue 49-20 the following weekend proved that the Badgers had nothing to worry about.
After a front-loaded schedule, these last two contests have been nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. The games haven’t been competitive, haven’t been challenging and – to be quite honest – have been a little boring. Wisconsin didn’t overlook the Illini or the Boilermakers, but they’ve certainly known the only true obstacle remaining is against its biggest rival.
Now, Wisconsin can finally lock in its focus to that game and clinching the B1G West.
Minnesota is going to present some challenges for the Badgers, some that it hasn’t seen in the past two Saturdays. The Gophers have one of the conference’s top running backs in Rodney Smith, who’s eclipsed the 100-yard mark six times heading into this weekend. Quarterback Mitch Leidner has been inconsistent again this season, but has played well in bigger games.
The Gophers also field a defense capable of containing Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale. Through 11 weeks, Tracy Claeys’ defense ranked fourth in the B1G against the run, allowing 122 yards per contest. Illinois ranked 11th and Purdue 13th in the conference against the run.
A lengthy streak is also on the line, too. Wisconsin has kept Paul Bunyan’s axe in Madison since 2004, winning the last 12 meetings against Minnesota. The Badgers haven’t lost this rivalry match-up at Camp Randall Stadium since a 17-14 defeat in 1994.
Minnesota is desperate to break that trend.
Even if the Gophers are overmatched and overpowered, this is a game that’s going to present some problems for Wisconsin.
But the Badgers can finally see the finish line. The game that everyone knew would be the final obstacle is finally here. Wisconsin now knows that if it wins one more game, it’ll be playing for a B1G title and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff.
With so much on the line next week, Wisconsin is finally back in a meaningful game – that’s been familiar territory this year.
Hopefully the Badgers are awake after two weeks that have been yawn-worthy.