The season as a whole deserves an asterisk. The final game does not.

The Gophers did not dropkick their opportunity to bring home Paul Bunyan's Axe because of youth or COVID-19 absences or injuries or because they faced a heavyweight opponent.

They lost for no other reason than failed execution.

Victory in the 130th meeting of this border rivalry was dangling right there under their nose, and the Gophers swatted it away.

Even when the Wisconsin Badgers seemed intent on gift-wrapping the trophy to them with one of the most bizarre play-calls you'll ever see, the Gophers did nothing with it.

Instead, they fumbled, played for overtime and then failed to execute again.

In the end, the strangest of seasons ended with a whimper, a 20-17 overtime loss at Camp Randall Stadium.

"We had plenty of opportunities and didn't make them happen," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.

The Gophers finished with a 3-4 record, which apparently doesn't automatically disqualify them from bowl game consideration. Fleck didn't answer yes or no when asked if his team would accept a bowl invitation should that happen.

The Gophers should call it a season. Let the players go home for Christmas and see their families and just relax away from football. This pandemic season has been a mental and emotional drain on everyone involved with daily testing and constant uncertainty over who will be available to practice or play.

Why extend that?

If Saturday was the finale, the Gophers should stew over a blown opportunity.

Their lack of consistency was a recurring theme this season. Some of that can be attributed to personnel shuffling caused by positive tests, but not all of it.

There is no blanket excuse because every team dealt with chaos this season. Their young players gained valuable experience, but the whole operation — coaching, offense, defense, special teams — needs to be better next season.

A missed 36-yard field goal by Anders Gelecinskyj in overtime was symbolic of the miscues that served as a roadblock to victory.

They had a touchdown wiped out by a penalty. Tanner Morgan threw an interception in the end zone. Freshman receiver Daniel Jackson stepped out of bounds on his own before making a third-down catch. They gave up 154 yards rushing to Wisconsin's third-string running back. And they missed a field goal in overtime.

Difficult to win that way, even against a Badgers team that had its offense gutted and was on a three-game losing streak.

Wisconsin needed overtime to win because of a bizarre call in the final minutes of regulation. The Badgers moved the ball to the Gophers' 40 after Garrett Groshek bullied his way on back-to-back runs of 9 and 10 yards. The clock was inside two minutes. Keep running the ball, right? Or perhaps a quick, safe throw.

Nope, Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst signed off on a deep pass by No. 3 quarterback, Chase Wolf, who came in after starter Graham Mertz got knocked out of the game in the third quarter. Cornerback Coney Durr intercepted Wolf's pass in the end zone.

The Gophers did nothing with that gift, and nearly gifted it right back when Morgan fumbled on a sack. Lineman Conner Olson was in the right spot and fell on the ball at the 27-yard line.

Workhorse Mohamed Ibrahim made an impact (151 yards rushing) against one of college football's stingiest defenses, but the Gophers self-destructed at critical moments.

Their defense gave up 20 points to an offense that had scored 20 points combined in three previous games and played without its top two running backs, two receivers and starting left tackle. And finished with its No. 3 quarterback.

So the Axe stays in a familiar spot.

This season was so unusual that drawing grand conclusions is impossible. The chaos was out of their control. Things felt fragile at times. But the Gophers also didn't play well consistently.

It might be easy or convenient to dismiss everything about this season, but that overlooks an important part of the picture. The Gophers need to make improvement in all areas to recapture what they started in 2019. That responsibility falls squarely on Fleck's shoulders.

The Star Tribune columnist did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.