Wisconsin's top-tier defense hasn't received any help from its once-high-scoring, now floundering offense. The Gophers come to Madison with a depth-tested team that has eked out wins through sheer determination rather than perfect play. It'll be a grind for Paul Bunyan's Axe.
THREE BIG STORY LINES
With 33 players out against Nebraska last week, the Gophers were down to just one-deep in some positions, including tight end. While about 20 of those missing were from COVID-19 and others from injury, it's possible some make a comeback for this final game of the season. Brevyn Spann-Ford could certainly use some help from fellow tight ends Ko Kieft and Bryce Witham.
Wisconsin's offense seems to have disappeared. The team that posted 94 points through its first two games has combined for just 20 points the past three. The Badgers will need to wake that unit up, and a shaky Gophers defense is a prime opportunity for a rebirth.
The 38-17 loss to the Badgers last season, also in the final regular season game, ended the Gophers' bid for the Big Ten championship, Rose Bowl, even the College Football Playoff. That's hard to forget and undoubtedly a grudge to hold for the Gophers. Meanwhile, Wisconsin hasn't let go of 2018's 37-15 loss to the Gophers at Camp Randall, and the team will want to defend its home in 2020.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Mohamed Ibrahim vs. Wisconsin's rush defense
The top running back in the Big Ten meets the tightest rush defense in the conference. Ibrahim's 925 yards, 15 touchdowns and 175 carries through six games is phenomenal. But the Badgers allow an average of just 83.2 yards per game on the ground and have given up just one rushing score. Ibrahim's been playing through an apparent shoulder injury, with strong backup help from Cam Wiley and Treyson Potts. But this will be the biggest challenge yet.
Jake Ferguson vs. Mariano Sori-Marin
Ferguson has been the Badgers' top pass-catcher as a tight end, amassing 249 yards on 26 catches, which means he averages nearly a first-down each catch. Besides his four touchdowns, Ferguson can also aide Wisconsin's run game with big blocks. Sori-Marin had his best game by far at Nebraska, tallying 18 tackles, and the linebacker will need to keep tabs on Ferguson to prevent any explosive plays.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
130 How many times the Gophers and Badgers will have played after Saturday. The rivalry has been going since 1890, with just one interruption in 1906. That almost became two when a COVID-19 outbreak on the Gophers canceled the game originally scheduled for Nov. 28. But the Big Ten rescheduled the matchup for this "championship week" slate for the longest uninterrupted competition in the FBS.
THE Gophers WILL WIN IF …
the pass game can finally step up. Quarterback Tanner Morgan and his wide range of receivers have been better, but Morgan's accuracy and his catchers' drops have taken away some golden chances. The Gophers defense might be able to handle a stalled Badgers' offense, but the Gophers will need more than Ibrahim against Wisconsin's intimidating defense.
The BADGERS WILL WIN IF …
their offense finds some semblance of its early season form, back when it trounced Illinois 45-7 and Michigan 49-11. The Gophers defense is third-worst in the conference, allowing an average of 431.5 yards per game and more than seven yards per play. If that can't stoke the Badgers into some production, nothing can.
Prediction: Wisconsin 20, Gophers 17