Few will disagree that Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan have consistently been the teams to beat in the Big Ten over the past few decades. Yet Minnesota's border rivalries with Iowa and Wisconsin never fail to incite fervor amongst fans at a level unseen for any other games.
Rivalries amongst those who share borders are a human tradition dating back to antiquity from the Athenians and the Spartans, the Ming Dynasty and the Mongolians, the Egyptians and the Israelites, the Vikings and everyone else, and many, many more.
Minnesota's rivalries with Iowa and Wisconsin are sparsely known outside of the Midwest and the Big Ten. Venture to the coasts and the deep South, and Big Ten teams from the Midwest not in Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Michigan are relative unknowns.
It's tough to measure whether the Iowa or Wisconsin rivalry means more to Minnesota. The answer to that question depends upon who it is you're asking. Perhaps the best answer is that you can't measure a rivalry other than to say that it means everything on the weekend it happens.
Historically, these rivalries were fought amongst Universities from States that were very similar, but whose residents would never have admitted that. All three schools were the largest University in their respective States, drew from a population primarily engaged in agriculture, shared cold climates, and had similar accents.
Minnesota dominated both series until the late 1970s, at which point both Iowa and Wisconsin became the dominant victors of the games. Many Gopher fans blame the arrival of the Vikings for diminishing their fan base, but don't tell that to die-hard Badger and Packers fans.
The reasons can be debated, but Minnesota's rivalries with both Iowa and Wisconsin now usually feature the Gophers as underdogs. 2010's Gopher squad now consists primarily of Brewster's recruits, and this year's rivalry games will likely foreshadow whether this new decade will change expectations or follow the course of the last three.
The future of Minnesota's rivalries with Iowa and Wisconsin are in limbo. Big Ten realignment may split the teams into different divisions. Increasing urbanization of the Twin Cities and Eastern Wisconsin is leading to populations that are less passionate about college football as generations past. The variety of college football games on television leads to less loyal fan bases. Online college courses results in a diminished sense of belonging amongst students.
Hopefully, the border rivalries with Wisconsin and Iowa will persevere for generations to come. If not, today's fans can someday look back upon these games and remember that they were there during the twilight of a proud tradition.