Rivalry Week is always one of the great highlights of the college football season. Alabama-Auburn; Michigan-Ohio State; Florida-Florida State (well, not this year). And annually, Wisconsin vs. Minnesota, the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, is a compelling, important and excellent affair. But this year, it goes far beyond bragging rights. This year, Axe Week couldn’t be more crucial.
Following their win over the Wolverines last week, the fifth-ranked Badgers are looking to extend their undefeated regular season and advance to the Big Ten Championship game, for which they’ve already qualified and a spot in the College Football Playoff is ostensibly on the line. Axe Week is always big, but this time it means everything.
On Tuesday night, as expected, the Badgers were revealed at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
This week's game is in Minneapolis – Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT on ABC – and Wisconsin is currently a 17-point favorite. The Badgers (11-0, 8-0 in conference) have won their last 13 matchups against Minnesota, having not lost since 2003 – or, not since running back Jonathan Taylor, the now seven-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week honoree, was still in kindergarten.
Interestingly and incredibly, though, despite Wisconsin’s recent run of dominance, the all-time series between the schools is tied at 59-59-8.
Even-keeled head coach Paul Chryst has preached a levelheaded, one-game-at-a-time message all season, which his team has exemplified over the past month, as national attention and scrutiny have grown with Wisconsin’s continued success. This week, Chryst’s consistent mantra hasn’t changed at all.
"Each year is a new opportunity, and certainly this game means a ton to both sides," Chryst said. "If you look back at the history of it, both schools have had their runs. The great thing about sports is, what are you doing today? This group knows that, and it’s all about this year, two teams, and you’ve got to go play the game to earn the right to either keep the Axe or get the Axe."
The Gophers are one victory away from being bowl-eligible, so they will have plenty to play for on Saturday. If the Badgers execute their typical and best brand of football – with a stalwart and strangling defense, a dynamic rushing attack led by Taylor, competent quarterback play from Alex Hornibrook and few mistakes as a team – they should easily prevail. If they stumble and fall at Minnesota, their College Football Playoff hopes will be over. (And, with the weakest strength of schedule of any team in the Top 25, Wisconsin almost assuredly also needs to beat Ohio State in the conference championship game to clinch a playoff berth.)
But Chryst and the Badgers would say they’re not thinking that far ahead, nor about the CFP committee, only focusing on Minnesota and what they can control Saturday: winning and keeping Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
So with that in mind, here’s an awesome video to get Wisconsin fans fired up for Axe Week.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.