Winners of two straight and looking like a resurgent offensive force, the Wisconsin Badgers are riding high heading into their home tilt against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday.
That resurgence has put the Badgers in a position as an overwhelming favorite to play in the Big Ten championship game. Behind a top-notch running attack led by Montee Ball, Wisconsin will likely try to continue its winning ways by pounding the Minnesota defense into submission.
Hoping to stop Ball is a Gophers team that has flailed since opening its conference schedule and comes into the weekend as overwhelming underdogs.
Nonetheless, Minnesota is essentially playing with house money on the road and should pull out any and all stops to pull the off an upset.
With that in mind, here is a look at everything you need to know about Saturday's Big Ten showdown.
When: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI
Betting Line: Wisconsin (-18.5), according to Vegas Insider
Minnesota Injuries (via USA Today)
QB MarQueis Gray, Ankle, Questionable
OL Foster Bush, Undisclosed, Questionable
DB Martez Shabazz, Toe, Questionable
WR Duke Anyanwu, Knee, Out
LB Quinn Mauducco, Back, Out
WR Jamel Harbison, Knee, Out for Season
TE Kendall Gregory-McGhee, Back, Out
Wisconsin Injuries (via USA Today)
DL Tyler Dippel, Arm, Questionable
OL Dallas Lewallen, Knee, Out
WR Isaiah Williams, Groin, Out
LB Cody Byers, Concussion, Out for Season
Top 25/BCS Implications
With a much-needed two-week resurgence against Purdue and Illinois, Wisconsin is back on the Top 25 radar, albeit simply in the "also receiving votes" section.
Nonetheless, a convincing victory over a far less talented Minnesota team could go a long way for a team that is trying to regain its preseason hype.
Though the Badgers sit at 5-2 coming into this Saturday's contest, they have lost both games this season by a combined six points. If there is a team in the Big Ten that is underrated this season, it's certainly Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Minnesota is on the complete other end of the spectrum. After starting the season 4-0, the Gophers have lost both of their Big Ten contests thus far and could be reverting back into the second tier of the conference.
Not even a shocking win against Wisconsin would likely get voters noticing Minnesota quite yet.
What They're Saying
Obviously, the biggest story coming into this week for the Gophers involved head coach Jerry Kill's health.
Despite suffering his second seizure in as many seasons with the team while on the sideline, Kill returned to work at Monday and does not plan on taking it easy, according to Fox Sports' Tyler Mason.
During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, it was business as usual for Kill, who was more worried about his team’s upcoming game against Wisconsin than he was about his own health.
"I’m back to work, going full speed," Kill said.
On the other side of the field, everyone in Wisconsin is focused on the team's status as overwhelming favorites in the Big Ten's Leaders Division. With wins over Purdue and Illinois, the only other true contenders are Penn State and Ohio State, but both are ineligible due to NCAA sanctions.
When asked whether he'd considered seemingly wide-open track to the championship game, linebacker Chris Borland acknowledged the possibility while also keeping the focus on this week.
We don't live in a bubble. We understand what we can do, that we control our own destiny. But I think we do a good job on this team of taking it one game at a time. Minnesota week is huge here.
Minnesota Player to Watch: QB Max Shortell
After getting a short reprieve from the starting lineup, it's likely that Shortell will line up behind center on Saturday with Marqueis Gray hobbled once again due to an ankle injury.
That means most of the onus will be on the sophomore signal-caller to come away with a career-best game to pull off the upset on Saturday.
Though the Wisconsin defense has been strong for most of the season, it has shown a slight weakness against efficient passing attacks. In both of their losses, the Badgers have been done in by opposing quarterbacks.
Oregon State's Sean Mannion picked the Badgers apart in Week 2 and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez led a 17-point comeback using both his legs and arm on Sept. 29.
Unfortunately for the Gophers, Shortell is not on the level of either aforementioned quarterback. He has completed just 57.1 percent of his passes this season and does not have dual-threat capabilities.
Had Gray been able to suit up, this game could have been a completely different contest. However, unless Shortell shows something we have not seen yet, this one could get as ugly as the spread indicates.
Wisconsin Player to Watch: QB Joel Stave
Since taking the starting job from Danny O'Brien before the UTEP game, things have gone rather smoothly for Stave behind center.
Efficient, yet non-explosive, the freshman quarterback has thrown for 871 yards and five touchdowns against just three interceptions on the season.
Nonetheless, he will face his toughest test of the season on Saturday.
The Minnesota pass defense comes into Week 8 having given up just 975 yards through the air all season, which ranks second in the Big Ten. If the Gophers are able to fluster Stave early and force some critical mistakes, they could make this game closer than expected.
Key Matchup: Montee Ball vs. Minnesota's Front Seven
While the Minnesota pass defense has been among the conference's best, its ability to stop the run is very much in question.
A matchup against a weak defense could not come at a better time for Ball. Weeks of ineffectiveness finally came to a halt over the past two weeks for the preseason Heisman hopeful, as he rushed for a combined 363 yards and five touchdowns against Illinois and Purdue.
Unless the Gophers spent their entire week trying to fix the defense's issues against the run, Ball could be in line for his third straight fantastic performance.
On the other hand, if the senior running back regresses to his early season form, it would put a cavalcade of pressure Stave to step up.
We're yet to see the Gophers' run defense become a top-tier unit and that does not seem likely to happen facing Ball.
Look for the Wisconsin back to continue his ascent and to lead his team to an easy win on Saturday.
Score Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 14