Thursday, March 13, 2014
Snapping the streak: Minnesota-Wisconsin
By Adam Rittenberg
Borrowing an idea from our friends at the ACC blog, we're taking a look at some of the Big Ten's top rivalries and whether recent trends will continue or change during the 2014 season. The Big Ten has no shortage of rivalries, but we've identified several that have been rather one-sided in the last few seasons.
First up, two teams who play for a giant axe: Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Series: First meeting in 1890. Minnesota leads 58-57-8; Wisconsin leads 39-24-3 since Paul Bunyan's Axe was introduced in 1948.
Last meeting: Wisconsin beat Minnesota 20-7 on Nov. 23, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis
The streak: Wisconsin has won the past 10 meetings, dating back to 2004. It's the longest win streak for either team in the series. Minnesota's last win was a 37-34 triumph in 2003 at the Metrodome. The Badgers have claimed 17 of the past 19 meetings.
Next meeting: Minnesota visits Wisconsin on Nov. 29
The skinny: The gap between the longtime rivals seems to be closing a bit as coach Jerry Kill has guided Minnesota to consecutive bowl appearances and a historic Big Ten win streak last season. Wisconsin isn't on the decline by any means, although the Badgers are replacing a lot of key pieces right now, including linebacker Chris Borland, the 2013 Big Ten defensive player of the year, and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. Both teams have some competition at quarterback this spring, although it would be a surprise if Mitch Leidner doesn't get the nod at Minnesota. Joel Stave is by far Wisconsin's most experienced signal-caller, but he'll be pushed by Bart Houston and possibly Tanner McEvoy. Both teams also are reloading a bit in the defensive front seven, especially Wisconsin.
Minnesota is looking more like Wisconsin under Kill, using an offense built around the power run. Both teams should be very strong at running back, as Wisconsin returns Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon and promising sophomore Corey Clement, while Minnesota should have four good ball-carrying options, including David Cobb, a 1,200-yard rusher in 2013 and decorated freshman Jeff Jones. The Badgers benefit from a favorable Big Ten schedule that doesn't include Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State. They could be playing for a West Division title when Minnesota visits Camp Randall Stadium. The Gophers, meanwhile, are fed up with their continued struggles in the series, as we saw in last season's chop-stop attempt at TCF Bank Stadium.
The (very early) prediction: We'll see another competitive game, but Minnesota's wait to end the streak will last another year. The Badgers will have more to play for, home-field advantage and the memory of last senior's senior day stinker in their minds. Both teams will run the ball well, but Gordon has a big day and scores the game-winning touchdown in the closing minutes in what likely will be his final home game as a Badger.