Good afternoon from Huntington Bank Stadium, where the Gophers and No. 14 Wisconsin will battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe (3 p.m., FOX) in a game that has Big Ten West Division title implications for the visitors. A win by Wisconsin (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten) would give the Badgers a share of the West title with Iowa and would send the Badgers to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan, an upset winner over Ohio State. A win by the Gophers (7-4, 5-3) would mean Iowa wins the division title outright and would face the Wolverines.
Minnesota's chance at a share of the title and a shot at a trip to Indy ended Friday afternoon when Nebraska, up 15 points late in the third quarter, collapsed in a 28-21 loss to Iowa. Now the Gophers' motivation is winning the Axe back and spoiling the championship aspirations of their biggest rival.
Wisconsin enters the game on a roll, winning seven consecutive games and being dominant in the process, especially on defense. The Badgers lead the nation in total defense (233.3 yards allowed per game) and rushing defense (59.8), and their 15.8 points allowed per game ranks fifth in the country. Their inside linebackers, Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn, have combined for 173 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
The Gophers counter with an offense that averages 204.6 rushing yards (23rd nationally) and possesses the ball for an average of 35:37, third most in the nation. On defense, Minnesota is 12th nationally at 103.6 yards per game, and it will be tested by Badgers 238-pound freshman Braelon Allen, who has rushed for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns during the seven-game win streak.
It's Senior Day for the Gophers, who'll salute players during a pregame ceremony. On Friday, 17 Gophers posted farewell messages on Twitter, thanking coaches teammates and fans. Most were either seniors who have exhausted their eligibility or those not planning to return next season.
Most prominent among those was offensive tackle Daniel Faalele, a fourth-year senior who has a year of eligibility remaining but will not return and is expected make himself available for the NFL draft.
Others who tweeted goodbye were offensive linemen Conner Olson, Sam Schlueter and Austin Beier; tight end Ko Kieft; defensive linemen Micah Dew-Treadway, Nyles Pinckney and Jack Kern; linebackers Jack Gibbens and Pete Bercich; defensive backs Coney Durr, Justus Harris, Phillip Howard, Bishop McDonald and Calvin Swenson; and kickers Will Mobley and Brock Walker.
Coach P.J. Fleck said this week that just because a player goes through Senior Day festivities, that does not necessarily mean he is not coming back. Conversely, if somebody doesn't go through the festivities, that doesn't definitely mean he is coming back. Some decisions have been made while others are forthcoming.