The Battle For Paul Bunyan's Axe: Minnesota vs Wisconsin

By Will Bateman

Week 13 is Rivalry Week in College Football. It begins on Thanksgiving and ends in the early hours of Sunday morning, with dozens of enemies squaring off against each other – the result of which will often make or break a team’s season. Will Bateman explains why one game in particular is worthy of your attention this weekend:

Embed from Getty Images

This weekend sees the small matter of ‘The Game’ between Michigan and Ohio State, but while all eyes will be on the result from The Big House in Ann Arbor, do take time afterward to cast your gaze to the frozen north as bitter divisional rivals Minnesota and Wisconsin battle it out for bragging rights, bowl game eligibility and a ceremonial six-foot wooden axe belonging to a giant lumberjack of American folklore history (yes, this is college football).

It’s fair to say that both the Badgers (6-5) and Gophers (5-6) have had seasons to forget. While each were heralded as prospective Big Ten West Champions only a few months ago, their respective seasons have followed very similar, though equally disappointing, trajectories; both teams have lost to Northwestern and, until Wisconsin’s OT win against Nebraska last week (who Minnesota also beat), both were staring down the barrel of a bowl game-less season.

Therefore, much is riding on this border battle for Minnesota, who must win to secure a bowl game, and this of course, is more than enough encouragement for the Badgers who would love nothing more than to ruin the saving grace of Minnesota’s season.

First played in 1890, the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry is the longest played in the Football Bowl Subdivision. After snapping a 14-game losing streak in 2018, Minnesota have won the last two years running, and with both teams tied in the overall series at 62 wins apiece, this game has added value for both sets of fans with the overall lead across the fixture’s 133-year history now within striking distance.

Embed from Getty Images

For the Gophers, Sophomore Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis’ consistency has been a considerable source of offensive problems. Kaliakmanis has shown glimpses of the Big Ten quarterback that may be hiding in there, but too often he has failed to convert on big plays; unsurprisingly he had a torrid time against Ohio State last Saturday, throwing for only 89 yards, but paltry second-half showings against weaker opposition such as Illinois (37 yards) and Purdue (88 yards) show there is much room for improvement.

While Daniel Jackson has been lone standout in a sluggish Gophers offense (google his TD catch against Nebraska if you don’t believe me), the rest of the receiving corps has to carry some of the blame alongside Kaliakmanis; before the Ohio State game last Saturday the Gophers had almost as many dropped passes at this point of this season than the last two combined.

After mixed seasons for both teams, this rivalry game certainly offers something a bit different for all concerned – for Wisconsin, a chance to return Paul Bunyan’s axe to the Badger State and cancel any Gophers’ post-season plans. For Minnesota, their bowl game probability lies in the balance, as does the small matter of holding onto Floyd of Rosedale and the Axe for the first time in the same season since 1990; a season could certainly be salvaged right there.

Feature Image Credit: Harrison Barden / USA Today Sports

Will Bateman


Will works in communications and is a relatively new convert to College Football. Alongside the Minnesota Gophers, he’s an avid fan of the Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Phillies and Tottenham Hotspur. Follow him on Twitter @ItsWillBateman