Jon Christenson has a theory that if he doesn't believe something can happen, it won't. So there the Gophers senior offensive lineman was Tuesday, speaking in certain terms about beating the Wisconsin Badgers this week, for the first time since 2003.
"Obviously, when we win this Saturday, we'll go on to a bowl game," Christenson said.
First, the Gophers must solve the nation's top scoring defense, as the Badgers have allowed only 12.4 points per game. Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda runs a 3-4 scheme, with three down linemen and four linebackers.
Since most Big Ten teams run the 4-3, the Badgers have something unique and refined. They keep quarterbacks guessing where pressure will come from, and boast two of the best linebackers in the country in Joe Schobert (18.5 tackles for a loss) and Vince Biegel (12).
"In the past, they've had some pretty neat players that now have gone on to the NFL," Christenson said. "This year, they're nothing spectacular. But their schemes are a little bit different than what we normally face, so I think that's what presents so many challenges for different teams."
After losing their opener 35-17 to Alabama, the Badgers proceeded to surrender only three points combined in their final three nonconference games.
Nebraska (21 points) and Maryland (24) are the only Big Ten teams that have scored multiple touchdowns against the 8-3 Badgers.
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner said the thing that stands out about the Badgers defense is "probably how hard and physical they play. When you watch on film, they're flying around to the football and making plays. They have a lot of juice, and a lot of fun when they're playing, so you've just got to match their intensity."
Aranda has enjoyed big success since coming to Wisconsin with former coach Gary Andersen from Utah State three years ago.
The Badgers smothered the Gophers 20-7 two years ago in Minneapolis.
Last year in Madison, the Gophers had some success early, building a 17-3 lead. Then Aranda's unit tightened, paving the way for 24 consecutive Wisconsin points. The final was 34-24. Leidner completed only five passes for 95 yards.
"There were some things that were working for us early against them that kind of dried up," Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "They made some adjustments. So now it's the chess game, being one more year into it. We feel like the ball's back in our court to make some counter moves."
Andersen left for Oregon State last December, but new coach Paul Chryst wisely kept Aranda in Madison. Opposing quarterbacks winced. Consider these passing yardage totals in games against Wisconsin this year: Iowa (77), Nebraska (129), Purdue (136), Rutgers (82) and Northwestern (60).
"I think anytime you've got a good scheme, good players, you've got a chance," Chryst said. "And I think now they're playing with an edge. And, we're going to be tested again this week, but there's a confidence."
Michigan had the nation's top- ranked scoring defense heading into its Oct. 31 game against the Gophers. Minnesota lost 29-26 and came one yard from a late, game-winning touchdown. Two weeks ago, Iowa had the nation's eighth-best scoring defense, and the Gophers mounted five long touchdown drives in a 40-35 loss.
So Christenson has confidence, even though he had to eat his words in October when he talked about "pushing around" Nebraska's defensive line again. The Cornhuskers whipped the Gophers that day 48-25.
"Like I say, often, if I didn't think so, it wouldn't happen," Christenson said. "Nebraska, obviously we lost, but the past three or four games, we've been rolling as an offense. And it's been exciting to see Mitch really stepping up, [running back] Shannon Brooks really come to life, and our offensive line really pushing the defense around.
"We're really excited. Wisconsin will be a great test for us, and we hope we can keep it rolling because we want that Axe."