Life inside the Minnesota-Iowa rivalry wasn't easy to begin with.

As Gophers senior Drew Wolitarsky put it: "Last year in Iowa was crazy. You felt like you were in this gladiator arena. I remember being very sore after the game."

Saturday's losing team will feel additional pain. Beyond watching the winner parade around TCF Bank Stadium with a 98.3-pound bronze pig, the loser will be all but knocked out of the Big Ten West race.

The Gophers' overtime loss at Penn State last week and Iowa's home loss to Northwestern gave these two teams with division title hopes little margin for error.

"I think it's more pressure," former Iowa quarterback Chuck Long told Big Ten Network. "Both teams need this victory."

Iowa (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) needs to stop its surprising backslide. A team that started 12-0 last year has turned in consecutive duds — a two-point loss to North Dakota State, a one-touchdown win at Rutgers and a one-touchdown loss to Northwestern.

The Hawkeyes returned several key players from last year's team that beat the Gophers 40-35 last fall in Iowa City, including second-team All-Big Ten quarterback C.J. Beathard and All-America cornerback Desmond King.

They were consensus favorites to win the West again, but the offensive line has weakened, Beathard has been pedestrian, and the defense has struggled against the run.

Left tackle Cole Croston gave up four sacks last week, and the defense appears to miss last year's senior safety Jordan Lomax. But when asked how concerned he was about those positions, coach Kirk Ferentz said, "I'm pretty concerned about everything right now."

The Gophers (3-1, 0-1) have their own issues, especially on defense. Penn State had nine gains of 20-plus yards against them last week, including Saquon Barkley's 25-yard clinching touchdown.

After that game, Wolitarsky addressed the team, saying everyone's focus should be on Iowa.

"One thing that we had in the past was pointing fingers — 'We lost because of this or this,'" Wolitarsky said Wednesday. "It doesn't help the team. What happened is not going to help you in the future, so we came in Sunday, watched the film, corrected things and got moving on."

Coach Tracy Claeys thought the Gophers practiced well this week.

"There won't be any excuses, any hangover or anything like that," he said. "We'll be ready to go."

If not, the Gophers face the prospect of falling two games behind idle Nebraska in the West standings. Claeys has said this team should be in contention for a division title each November. A loss would pretty much dash those hopes in early October.

The last time the Big Ten had a two-loss division winner was 2011, when Wisconsin and Penn State finished atop the Leaders Division at 6-2.

Now there's a nine-game conference schedule, which stretches things out and could open the door for another two-loss division champion. But if they lose Saturday, the Gophers would probably need to run the table, which would mean winning at both Nebraska and Wisconsin.

The Gophers have lost 12 in a row to Wisconsin, but this other border rivalry with Iowa has been more even, with the teams splitting the past six meetings.

The Gophers crushed Iowa 51-14 two years ago at TCF Bank Stadium, when Mitch Leidner tossed three touchdown passes to Maxx Williams. But Iowa scored on six of its first seven possessions last year and hoisted Floyd of Rosedale to the Kinnick Stadium crowd.

"It's one of those things where they go back and forth," Claeys said. "That's how rivalries should be."

Gophers defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel said he remembers the losses against Iowa far more than the wins.

"I have pictures of my kids with the pig, but I couldn't tell you where they're at," Sawvel said. "It's a bad taste when you lose in a game like that. But you remember that taste, and you remember that burn."

By mid-November 2014, the Gophers had possession of three of their four rivalry trophies — Floyd, the Little Brown Jug (Michigan), and the Governor's Victory Bell (Penn State). After last week's loss, they have none.

"The trophy case is a little bare out there," Leidner said. "But that's all right because we still have two more trophy games to play for."

The battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe comes Nov. 26 at Wisconsin. A lot could change by then, but for now the Gophers still fancy themselves contenders.

To keep it that way, they will need to step back into the gladiator arena and welcome the pain.

"I look forward to that feeling on Sunday morning," Wolitarsky said. "Having the pig back, feeling that nice soreness."