Wisconsin vs. Minnesota: Winning the Paul Bunyan Axe Has Never Been so Important

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Wisconsin vs. Minnesota: Winning the Paul Bunyan Axe Has Never Been so Important
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There will definitely be a lot on the line when the 8-2 Wisconsin Badgers face the 8-2 Minnesota Gophers this Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Badgers are ranked 16th in the Associated Press Top 25, 17th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 19th in the BCS standings. The Gophers, meanwhile, are just out of the Associated Press Top 25 (ranked 26th), but are 23rd in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 25th in the BCS standings.

Both teams are in second place in their respective divisions in the Big Ten, as the Badgers are 5-1 and behind Ohio State (6-0) in the Leaders Division, while the Gophers are 4-2 and behind Michigan State (6-0) in the Legends Division.

There is also the matter of this game being for the Paul Bunyan Axe. The Badgers will be attempting to win their 10th straight game for the Axe. The series for the Axe started in 1948, and the Badgers have a 38-24-3 advantage in the series.

In addition, no two teams in the FBS have ever played more. The series between the two teams started in 1890, and with the exception of 1906, they have played every year since then. In the overall series, the Gophers hold a 58-56-8 edge over the Badgers.

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Head coach Gary Andersen of the Badgers, who will be coaching in his first-ever Paul Bunyan Axe game, knows about the importance of this game and the trophy, as he talked about that subject at his weekly press conference via uwbadgers.com.

The first day I was here, Coach (Barry) Alvarez walked me through and I saw the Axe sitting in the trophy case. It doesn't take too long to realize how important it is.

As we all know, in rivalries like this, it's a one-game championship. It's three hours and whatever minutes it takes to get it done.

This is huge game for Wisconsin for another reason. Beating a team like Minnesota, on the road, would go a long way in getting some more ammunition in terms of moving up in the BCS standings. If the Badgers can move up into the top 14 teams in the standings when the season is over, they will be eligible for a BCS bowl.

Just last weekend, Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com projected the Badgers to be playing in the Orange Bowl versus Clemson. A couple of weeks earlier, Palm predicted that Wisconsin would play South Carolina in the Sugar Bowl. Palm definitely sees the Badgers running the table in the regular season and getting a bid to a BCS bowl.

None of that will matter if the Badgers lose to Minnesota. Not only will they lose any chance at getting a BCS Bowl bid, but they will also lose the Axe.

Most experts see the Badgers winning this game. Why? Excellent balance on both offense and defense. The Badgers are ranked 12th in total offense and sixth in the country in total defense.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The offense is led by running backs Melvin Gordon III and James White. Gordon has rushed for 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns, while White has rushed for 1,156 and 12 touchdowns.

Plus, the offense also has the dangerous Jared Abbrederis at wide receiver, who has 54 receptions for 849 yards and six touchdowns. Also helping out in the receiving department is tight end Jacob Pedersen, who has 27 catches for 392 yards and three touchdowns.

White and Abbrederis also are multifaceted in terms of their ability to help the offense. White also has 31 receptions for 257 yards and two touchdowns, while Abbrederis has rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

The offense is commanded by quarterback Joel Stave, who has played steadier as of late and has thrown 16 touchdown passes versus eight interceptions for 1,948 yards this season.

The sixth-ranked defense is led by linebacker Chris Borland, who is currently is a finalist for the Senior Class Award and a semifinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, Butkus Award and Bednarik Award.

Other Badger players have also been recognized as well. Gordon is a semifinalist for the Doak Walker and Maxwell Awards, while Abbdrederis is a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy.

Coach Andersen has also gotten into the mix, as he was named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Football Club Collegiate Coach of the Year Award.

Great recognition, to be sure.

Still, there is a job to be done Saturday, and the Badgers need to make sure they don't overlook the Gophers, who are being coached on an interim basis by Tracy Claeys while Jerry Kill is on a leave of absence to to focus on treating and managing his epilepsy, which has caused a number of seizures.

Who will win the Paul Bunyan Axe Saturday?

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Bottom line, this game is for the Paul Bunyan Axe. This is a rivalry game. The longest rivalry in FBS history. Both teams know this. And both teams will play like it.

That's why the Badgers have to be focused on the job at hand this Saturday. At stake could be an opportunity for a BCS Bowl. Maybe not the Rose Bowl, but the Badgers would be more than happy to be called to play in either the Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl.

But that only has a chance to happen if the Badgers win the Axe Saturday and then their next game at home versus Penn State the following week.

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