The Minnesota Golden Gophers have not clutched Paul Bunyan's Axe since November 6, 2004. That is more than a decade. When the Gophers take the field at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, there will be no one on their sideline who knows what it feels like to beat the Wisconsin Badgers. It goes without saying that this ignominious losing streak needs to end. The sooner, the better.
The fact that I'd have to go back to 2003 to find a photo of the Gophers with the Axe for this post is sad. I bring all this up not out of respect for the Badgers, but rather because it is the harsh truth that we have to face come Axe Week. No matter how you slice it, Wisconsin has embarrassed Minnesota for the last decade. But the good news is, the Gophers have a chance to put an end to this nightmare on Saturday.
The Badgers will roll into Minneapolis this weekend with a record of 8-3, but their resume this season is dubious at best. Their three losses have come against Alabama (10-1), Iowa (11-0), and Northwestern (9-2), while the opponents they've managed to beat hold a combined record of 26-63. Not a single one is bowl-eligible with a winning record. And aside from a blowout win over hapless Rutgers, they've been far from dominant in their games against Big Ten opponents. Credit Wisconsin for taking care of business against inferior teams, but if not for an elite defense, you can bet there'd be much more discontent in the stands at Camp Randall Stadium.
But what about the Gophers? Minnesota is not bowl-eligible, so I wouldn't group them in with the likes of Alabama, Iowa, and Northwestern. But their losses have come against TCU (9-2), Northwestern (9-2), Nebraska (5-6), Michigan (9-2), Ohio State (10-1), and Iowa (11-0). With Nebraska being more the exception than the rule, Minnesota has what you might call "respectable losses," but they're losses nonetheless. The Gophers have been competitive against Top 15 opponents, but haven't been able to get over the hump, and their wins haven't been against anyone impressive.
But there is no doubt they'll be leaving it all out on the field on Saturday.
#Gophers coach Tracy Claeys on if he will take home a gameball from his first career win: "We'd rather have that Axe."— Andy Greder (@andygreder) November 21, 2015
Honestly, I'm wasting space talking about records and strength of schedule. When it comes to Axe Week, none of that matters. Nothing does, except for what happens on the field on Saturday. The Gophers are going to do whatever it takes to re-claim Paul Bunyan's Axe, and no Badgers team wants to be the one to lose it. Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. Wisconsin is not unbeatable, not by any stretch of the imagination. But Minnesota has also come up short all season long in trophy games.
Then again, Saturday is also Senior Day at TCF Bank Stadium. Retired head coach Jerry Kill will be in attendance. The Gophers need one more win to secure a trip to a bowl game. Paul Bunyan's Axe will be theirs for the taking on Saturday, but the Badgers won't give it up without one heck of a fight.
Is this the year the streak ends? I damn well hope so. But we'll have to wait until Saturday to find out. Go Gophers!