The Gophers have 30 victories over the past four seasons, but senior quarterback Mitch Leidner said he’d trade all of them for one win over Wisconsin on Saturday.
“I probably would, to be honest with you,” Leidner said Tuesday.
It’s the longest running rivalry in the Football Bowl Subdivision, at 125 games dating back to 1890, but it’s also become one of the most one-sided.
The Badgers have won 12 consecutive games against the Gophers, who haven’t celebrated with Paul Bunyan’s Axe since Rhys Lloyd hit his game-winning field goal at the Metrodome in 2003.
“We need to win it here eventually,” Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said, “to make it a rivalry again.”
Rivalries are supposed to swing back and forth, alternating for fans between agony and sweet hallelujah. This all-time series looks OK: Minnesota still leads 59-58-9. But the Badgers have bogarted the Axe, going 19-2 against Minnesota since 1994. That also was the last time the Gophers beat Wisconsin in Madison, the site of this Saturday’s game.
All across college football, this is considered “Rivalry Week.” Without checking the schedule, longtime fans know that means Ohio State/Michigan, the Iron Bowl (Alabama/Auburn), Notre Dame/USC, the Egg Bowl (Ole Miss/Mississippi State), Clemson/South Carolina, Florida/Florida State, the Apple Cup (Washington/Washington State), Arizona/Arizona State and the Civil War (Oregon/Oregon State).
A check of those rivalries and several others on SportsReference.com, shows how unusual this dominant run by Wisconsin over Minnesota has been. According to that website’s “Rivalry Finder” feature, none of the series mentioned above has seen a one-sided run like this, except the Egg Bowl — Mississippi State won 12 straight against Ole Miss from 1911-1925.
Virginia Tech has a 12-game winning streak against Virginia heading into their game Saturday, so Cavaliers fans can relate. And Navy has won its annual December showcase with Army 14 consecutive times.
But that’s about it.
As bad as things have gone for Texas over past four years, the Longhorns still have alternated wins with Oklahoma in the “Red River Showdown.” The brainiacs at Harvard and Yale have this rivalry thing figured out, too, with the Crimson going 9-10-1 against the Bulldogs over the past 20 years.
Others have turned one-sided. Oregon has won eight straight against Oregon State. Florida State has won seven in a row against Miami — same for Stanford against Cal. Utah has won the “Holy War” against BYU for six consecutive years.
Ohio State is 11-1 against Michigan since 2004, heading into Urban Meyer/Jim Harbaugh Round 2. USC is 14-4 against UCLA since 1999. Alabama has squeezed the fun from its showdowns with LSU (seven wins in a row) and Tennessee (10).
But ’Bama beats everybody these days. The words can’t possibly sting as much as they do for Minnesotans every time a Wisconsinite discusses this rivalry.
The University of Wisconsin’s official Twitter account twisted the knife this week, saying: “Nobody has ever tweeted that Minnesota beat Wisconsin because @twitter didn’t exist the last time Minnesota beat Wisconsin.”
Before this, the longest winning streak in the rivalry was Minnesota’s nine-gamer from 1933 to ’41.
“The Paul Bunyan Axe is an awesome trophy; we get to look at it every single day in our locker room,” Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel said. “And as a senior going out, I’m going to do everything in my power to keep that Axe down in our locker room so that our freshmen can continue to look at that trophy every single day.”
Four months ago, Biegel was at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, when something unusual happened. The Gophers and Badgers actually struck up a conversation.
“In previous years, we would just kind of ignore each other, and it’d be an awkward staredown and no words would be exchanged,” Leidner said. “This year, I think we did talk to them for a little bit when we were standing in the lobby at the hotel.”
Nobody brought up the Axe, Leidner said. It was just small talk about the itinerary. Now, another season has unfolded, and the Gophers are two-touchdown underdogs, trying to end their rivalry rut.
They gave back the Little Brown Jug to Michigan last year, Penn State reclaimed the Governor’s Victory Bell in October, and Iowa kept Floyd of Rosedale one week later. The jug, bell and pig are missed, but that 6-foot Axe would make the trophy case seem full again.
“There’s nothing better than it,” Leidner said. “I’m really excited for this one.”