When the Gophers take the TCF Bank Stadium field against Wisconsin on Saturday, much more is at stake than just the coveted rivalry trophy.
Whichever team wins will play No. 1 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis. That also opens up a legion of major bowl game possibilities, from the Rose Bowl to the College Football Playoff.
But how the No. 8 Gophers came to this 10-1 precipice all started in this game a year ago, when they beat Wisconsin on its home turf, 37-15. That win reclaimed Paul Bunyan's Axe for the first time in 14 years and pivoted the program into its current success.
"That's how big of a win it was when you beat a team like that," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "... For our team to be able to see they can do something when we haven't done it for so long, people say we won't do it, seeing lots of people fail at it, I think that was a huge point to say we can.
"... I think that helped bring a little bit of validity to what we're doing."
I'll update this after warm-ups with any personnel observations. UPDATE: Tight end Jake Paulson is out, using cructhes on the sideline. He left the Northwestern game early with an apparent ankle injury. Freshman running back Cam Wiley is also out, his left leg braced and leaning on one crutch. Linebacker Alex Strazzanti was on crutches as well. Others sitting out are punter Tom Foley, running back Jason Willaimson, offensive lineman Kyle Sassack, defensive back Caden Fey, walk-on Peter Bercich and quarterback Zack Annexstad.
Holder Casey O'Brien was also on the sidelines for warm-ups after having lung surgery Wednesday. The four-time cancer survivor had a spot removed.