Of all the Big Ten rivalry games this weekend, none will be bigger than No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 9 Minnesota.
The two schools will be playing for more than Paul Bunyan’s Axe on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The winner will clinch the Big Ten West, and a trip to Indianapolis to face No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 7.
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck won over plenty of fans last season when the Gophers upset Wisconsin 37-15 in Madison, ending Wisconsin’s 14-game win streak in the series. Fleck and the Gophers have carried over that momentum into this season, starting the year 9-0 before falling at Iowa. Minnesota (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) bounced back last week with a 38-22 win at Northwestern.
Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2) is surging behind junior running back and Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor, who has rushed for 200 or more yards in each of his last three games. Expect Wisconsin to feature a heavy dose of Taylor against a Minnesota run defense that ranks a pedestrian seventh in the conference (123.9 ypg allowed).
ESPN’s College GameDay will be in town for the matchup, and the ebullient Fleck could cement Big Ten Coach of the Year honors if the Gophers win. Minnesota hasn’t won a Big Ten football title since sharing the crown with Purdue and Indiana in 1967. That year, the Hoosiers represented the conference at the Rose Bowl, losing to USC.
SHEA IT AIN’T SO
Things started shaky for Michigan this season, but senior quarterback Shea Patterson and the Wolverines appear to be peaking at the right time.
Patterson matched a school record with five touchdown passes in Michigan’s 39-14 win over Indiana on Saturday. In his last two games, Patterson, a transfer from Ole Miss and former five-star recruit from Toledo, Ohio, has posted back-to-back 300-yard passing games, completing 44 of 65 passes for 710 yards with nine TDs to one interception.
“We’re riding him,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters following the Indiana game “His play has just been outstanding. He is really seeing the field well. He’s taking care of the football at all times. Really playing good, disciplined football. Doing a great job of going through his reads.”
Patterson could etch his name in Michigan lore if he could lead the Wolverines to an upset over rival Ohio State on his Senior Day on Saturday. The win wouldn’t send Michigan to the Big Ten title game, but it would likely secure a Rose Bowl berth and end Harbaugh’s 0-4 mark against the Buckeyes.