Gophers vs. No. 14 Wisconsin, 3 p.m. Saturday, Huntington Bank Stadium, Ch. 9, 100.3-FM
For three quarters Friday, it looked as if the Gophers-Wisconsin game on Saturday might be a winner-take-all contest for the Big Ten West title. Instead, Nebraska blew a 15-point lead in a 28-21 loss to Iowa, meaning the Gophers will try to play spoiler against the Badgers and try to win Paul Bunyan's Axe.
Three big story lines
The West Division race
The Gophers cannot win the West, but they can prevent Wisconsin from claiming the division crown. A Minnesota win would give Iowa the West title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. If the Badgers win, they advance to Indianapolis.
Paul Bunyan's Axe
In 2018, the Gophers ended Wisconsin's 14-year hold on Paul Bunyan's Axe with a 37-15 win in Madison. The Badgers have won the past two, 38-17 in 2019 and 20-17 in overtime last year. Minnesota will try to win the Axe at home for the first time since 2003.
Winning home record in balance
The Gophers are 3-3 at home this season, with losses to Bowling Green and Illinois as heavy favorites. A victory over Wisconsin would prevent Minnesota from having a losing record at home for the first time since the 2015 team went 3-4, not counting last year's COVID-19-shortened season.
Two key matchups
Gophers offensive line vs. Wisconsin's front seven
This week, the Gophers offensive line was not included in the 13 semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation's top line. Minnesota's veteran group has a chance to prove those voters wrong with a strong performance against Wisconsin's stout defense.
Braelon Allen vs. Gophers linebackers
Jack Gibbens and Mariano Sori-Marin will lead Minnesota's defense against Allen, a 17-year-old, 238-pound true freshman who's surpassed 100 rushing yards in each of the past seven games. Allen had a 228-yard, three-TD performance against Nebraska last week. He's averaging 7.59 yards per carry, best in the nation.
One stat that matters
Average yards per rush by Wisconsin's opponents. It's the best mark in FBS this season and the best since Alabama's 2.01 in 2016.
The Gophers will win if …
They can play with more purpose than Wisconsin, even without the division title as the prize; they establish the run game but keep the Badgers defense honest by passing the ball; they don't allow Braelon Allen to run wild; and if they can turn any Wisconsin turnovers into TDs.
The Badgers will win if …
They establish superiority along the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense; their pass rush flusters Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan; quarterback Graham Mertz stays away from interceptions that plagued him early this season; and they limit big plays from Gophers WR Chris Autman-Bell.
Wisconsin 23, Gophers 17