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Minnesota Golden Gophers vs Wisconsin Badgers: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

When: Saturday, November 26 – 3:30 PM ET
Where: Camp Randell Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 59-58-8
Last Meeting: Wisconsin won 31-21 (2015)
Line: Wisconsin -14.5

Wisconsin is riding high into the last week of the college football regular season. The Badgers are 9-2 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten play, and they control their own destiny in the Big Ten West division.

The Wisconsin vs Minnesota rivalry has been anything but a rivalry the past 12 years. The last time Minnesota defeated the Badgers was on November 8, 2003, when they were playing at home. Minnesota hasn’t defeated the Badgers in Madison since the 1994 season. The Gophers hold a 0-10 record in Madison since that win.

Since losing back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State, Wisconsin has won five consecutive games heading into Saturday’s showdown against Minnesota on Senior Day. Wisconsin can clinch the division crown on Friday if Iowa defeats Nebraska in Iowa City. If not, the Badgers will need to defeat Minnesota for the thirteenth consecutive time to punch their ticket to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game.

Saturday will be the 126th meeting between the Badgers and Golden Gophers, marking the most-played rivalry in the FBS football.

At 8-3 overall and 5-3 in conference play, Minnesota has a lot to play for themselves. Unfortunately, the Golden Gophers they can do no better than sharing the Big Ten West crown, if they can pair an Iowa win on Friday with a win of their own. In that scenario, Minnesota would still lose out on tiebreakers to go to Indianapolis. If all four teams finish 6-3 in conference, Wisconsin would get the nod to Indy based on a 2-1 record against common opponents.

In addition to the Big Ten West implications, Saturday’s matchup will have implications toward the 2016 college football playoff as well. Wisconsin currently sits at No. 5 in the AP Poll and No. 6 in the CFP rankings. With Ohio State and Michigan playing a literal elimination game on Saturday, there will be a shake up in the rankings, and Wisconsin has much to gain from an Ohio State, Clemson, or Washington loss.

If Wisconsin wants to impress the selection committee on Saturday, they will focus on the task at hand and handily defeat Minnesota on Saturday as expected (the Badgers are currently favored by more than two touchdowns). Wisconsin is clearly sitting as the top two-loss-team in the CFP rankings, but they still need one more top 5 team to lose before they can feel safe about controlling their own destiny for the playoffs.

1 BURNING QUESTION: Can Wisconsin score enough points to impress the selection committee?

Wisconsin not only needs to win Saturday’s game, but they need to win it convincingly to score some style points in the process. The knock on the Badgers right now is that they aren’t “sexy” enough offensively and wouldn’t be a true threat to defeat No. 1 Alabama if the two teams faced in a hypothetical playoff matchup.

A dominant win over an eight-win Minnesota team would give the selection committee reason to feel more confident moving the Badgers up over a weaker one-loss team such as Washington, which would be crucial in aiding the Badgers in their bid for a playoff berth.

The Badgers’ nationally elite defense has shown that it is capable of scoring points of its own (see T.J. Watt touchdown against Purdue), and Saturday’s game would be an ideal setting for the Badgers stingy defense to shut down Minnesota’s offense and possibly score some points of its own in the process.

2 KEY STATS

– 12: That’s the amount of points that Wisconsin has given up in the first quarter of games all season. Wisconsin’s defense, which ranks in the top five in scoring defense per game at 13.4, is especially dominant in the first 15 minutes of games in 2016. The Badgers have given up just 12 points in 11 first quarters so far this season, a ridiculous statistic that really shows how good the Badgers’ defense has been early in games. Minnesota’s offense will be overjoyed o come away with a first quarter field goal on Saturday.

– 22.2: That’s the average amount points that Minnesota is surrendering to opponents in 2016. Minnesota’s defense is solid in its own right. The Golden Gophers’ scoring defense is good enough to place them in the top 30 nationally. Wisconsin will need to play an efficient game on offense, as well as scoring touchdowns when the Badgers reach the red-zone instead of settling for field goals. If Wisconsin can put up more than three touchdowns on Saturday, expect the Badgers to ultimately win the game.

3 KEY PLAYERS:

Mitch Leidner, Minnesota QB: Minnesota will need its senior quarterback to play the best game of his career if they want to score enough points to have a chance at scoring the huge upset in Madison on Saturday. Leidner has developed from a run first QB into a pass first QB, but accuracy issues remain a problem at times. Look for Wisconsin to control their pass rush to make Leidner beat tight coverage from inside the pocket instead of on the edges where he likes to play.

Corey Clement, Wisconsin RB: The senior running back went over the 1,000-rushing yard mark last week for the first time in his career. Clement and the Badgers rushing attack has been reaching its collective stride recently. Look for that to continue Saturday. If Wisconsin has their way running the football, it will go a long way toward the Badgers’ chances of defeating the Golden Gophers for a thirteenth consecutive time.

T.J. Watt, Wisconsin OLB: In his first season as a starter at linebacker, Watt has performed better than anyone could have realistically imagined coming into the 2016 campaign. Watt has led the Badgers in sacks, tackles for loss, and he even intercepted a pass for a touchdown against Purdue last week. No one knows what J.J.’s younger brother has in store for the college football world this week, but one thing we do know for sure is that Watt’s role will play a significant impact on the overall outcome of Saturday’s game.

STAFF PREDICTIONS:

Andy: Wisconsin 28-10
Dave: Wisconsin 59-0
Phil H.: Wisconsin 27-10
Philip R-R.: Wisconsin 24-14
Zach: Wisconsin 28-13

Currently a Sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Journalism major. Big sports fan, especially football and basketball. I enjoy sports writing in my free-time.

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