A storybook season has been unfolding for the Badgers. November has arrived and they are undefeated pointing at Pasadena and perhaps a national title. However, their method for success has been far from pretty. Wisconsin’s dump truck offense collects yards slowly and monotonously. Defense has been the Badger’s calling card as they have held every opponent they have played to under twenty points, and most under ten. They win convincingly even though by small margins.
Colorado State likely held the most anticipation for getting their first home game of the season underway. Having started the season with a heartbreaking loss to rival Colorado in Boulder and a crushing shutout loss to top ranked USC, playing in front of a friendly bunch of folks could prove to be the best remedy for their woes. The Golden Gophers travel from Minneapolis with an undefeated record attached to their luggage. The Rams may be glad to be home, but Minnesota may have not been the most welcome guest. The Gophers come in with an impressive running game, while Colorado State still searches for corks to plug their leaky defense.
How can a team that loses six of their last seven still be in the running for a decent bowl game? Leave all wacky possibilities to the crew from Madison. So many losses suffered by slim margins may destroy the morale of most groups, but Barry Alvarez’s Badgers thrive on adversity. The return of quarterback Brooks Bollinger and runningback Anthony Davis helps too. Davis finished this day tying a school record with five touchdowns. In addition, he toppled the 300-yard mark in a game that finally saw Wisconsin finish with an exclamation point. Just in the nick of time. With a loss, Wisconsin would have been banished to their couches to watch the bowl season from a distance. Instead a resounding victory over their largest rival lofted them one win over .500 and sending them to San Antonio to play Colorado in the Alamo Bowl.
On a day where fans could barely see their hands in front of their faces due to the heavy fog, Ryan Field in Evanston was far from full. Add rain to the recipe and the atmosphere was most certainly dampened. Minnesota strode in on a losing streak while the Wildcats were looking to regain top twenty-five status after being slammed by Ohio State the week prior.
The roads leading from Minneapolis to Madison and back have been traveled with sullen expressions for the Gophers – five consecutive years and five consecutive thuds of Paul Bunyan’s Axe through their figurative hearts. Wisconsin has dominated the series over Minnesota for half a decade and need to file today’s game under the win column to maintain momentum and keep the signs pointed toward a bowl engagement.
Is Wisconsin for real? Most critics labeled the Badgers as the worst undefeated team in the country due to their 98th ranked and rather feeble schedule. Nevertheless, a mythotical offense and suffocating defense has resulted in a slow and steady climb to the top ten.
The Badgers had popped into the top 25 with their six game win streak. But, a stumble at Purdue last week dropped them from the elite. I chose to drive up to Minneapolis with my parents on their annual road trip to a Wisconsin game. The Metrodome holds dark memories for me. 1993 was my last visit and we witnessed a Badger loss – their only one of that season. I was hoping to take something positive away from the Twin Cities this year.
The game between the Gophers and Badgers is the longest consecutive running rivalry in college football. They have played every year since 1890. Since 1948, they have played for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which has the scores of every game between the two teams carved into the handle. The last time Minnesota visited Camp Randall Stadium, they shocked the Badgers with an upset. This year, the Badgers looked to erase the memory of that disaster with a dose of revenge.
The Badgers fell from the rankings with their TIE to Purdue. But, that was not the focus this week. All eyes were on revenge as the Gophers came to Madison. Last season, Minnesota was the only team keeping the Badgers undefeated. On top of that, all the relatives we went to visit in Minneapolis last year were coming to Madison for the rematch. Our chests were stuck out again believing that THIS time it would be different since Camp Randall was the venue. Throw in homecoming to the mix and Wisconsin seemed unbeatable.
At this point, I have witnessed five games for Wisconsin and five Badger victories. My interest level was on the rise and I was actually excited to sit in the van for six hours to see my beloved team on the road for the first time. We went to visit relatives in Minneapolis and they got us a skybox in the Metrodome. All of the Wisconsin relatives were completely confident that the Badgers (6-0) would succeed, as it was our chance to show off our new national power against the lowly Gophers (3-4). My father displayed his confidence the most overtly as he paraded our Wisconsin flag up and down the driveway upon our arrival.