MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As far as rivalries go, the longest-running one in college football really hasn’t been much of one lately.
Wisconsin and Minnesota have been going at it since 1890, meaning the blood has been boiling between these border states for 125 years. Paul Bunyan’s Axe has gone to the winner every season since 1948, but the Golden Gophers hardly know what it feels like.
The Badgers have taken it home 11 straight times — the longest winning streak in the series — and 18 of the last 20 times these two teams have met.
“The day we show up on the game for the Axe and we play better for four quarters than Wisconsin does, we’ll bring the Axe back home,” Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said. “It’s a very simple formula. It’s hard to execute.”
Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2 Big Ten) has never lost in three trips to TCF Bank Stadium and has won five straight in Minneapolis overall. Only two games of the last 11 have been decided by fewer than 10 points and the Badgers will likely come in with an added edge after a controversial loss to Northwestern at home last week snapped a five-game winning streak.
“It’s our axe,” defensive lineman Chikwe Obasih said sternly. “It’s our axe.”
The Gophers haven’t won a game in the series since 2003, and they are well aware of the dubious streak.
“I told the O-line on Saturday after the (Illinois) game that we take a group picture after every time we win one of the trophy games, and I still don’t have one,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. “I have a space open in my den for one of those, for the Axe. Everybody knows and everybody will be ready to go. Those kids will play their tail ends off. They understand.”
A win on Saturday would make the Gophers (5-6, 2-5) bowl eligible. But they aren’t thinking about the postseason.
“There is no comparison,” Claeys said. “It’s the rivalry game and getting the Axe. No disrespect to the bowl but that’s a side product to this. I don’t think you’re respecting the tradition if you go and talk about the bowl games, because this Axe has been in play for a long time, and we haven’t had it for a while.”
QUARTERBACK QUERIES: Wisconsin’s Joel Stave was treated for a concussion after being knocked out of the game against Northwestern, but Chryst said he was in good shape for this weekend. Same goes for Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner, who wore a walking boot on his left foot after beating Illinois last week. Leidner said on Tuesday he was ready to practice all week and wouldn’t miss the game.
BOLD TALK: Despite the Gophers’ losing streak in the series, Minnesota offensive lineman Jon Christenson sounded very confident. “Not having beat them yet in my career,” he said, “it will be something that will be pretty special when we do.”
KILL RETURNS: Gophers coach Jerry Kill was forced to retire in the middle of the Big Ten season due to epilepsy. Saturday is the school’s fourth annual epilepsy awareness game, and Kill will be in the stadium for the first time since he retired. “For everything that he’s done for here and how that all went down, I think it would be a very appreciative day for him to be here,” Claeys said.
TAKING A JAB: Badgers coach Paul Chryst’s predecessor, Gary Andersen, liked to buck tradition by keeping the Axe displayed in the end zone during the game. When asked about the protocol, Claeys called himself a “traditionalist,” then said of Andersen, who bolted for Oregon State last year, “Gary’s no longer in the Big Ten.” He punctuated the jab with a wink.
ELITE COMPANY: A win on Saturday would be the 30th of Stave’s career, which would move him into a tie with Brooks Bollinger for the winningest quarterback in school history.
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