Author's Note: My new avatar is the result of sheer brilliance by Tom Izzo, I mean, Michigan State's football team, in putting together a solid win over Wisconsin. It'll last until this weekend, so...yeah.
I did a piece on Bucky's 5th Quarter a while ago and I was trying to come up with a way to fan the flames from the earlier "Why Michigan Will Beat MSU" by Ted Glover. That's not a shot at Ted or anything, it just got me thinking about how Michigan-Michigan State isn't the only marquee matchup of the weekend. If anything, there's a bigger fish in the pond: the longest rivalry in the nation or somesuch. Wisconsin v Minnesota is this weekend, and if you CAN watch the game, watch it. Both teams are looking to improve to .500 in conference play.
After the jump: possibilities as to what a Wisconsin victory could do to Minnesota. And vice versa.
After the first weekend of conference play, Wisconsin stands with a mark in the loss column.
If you've lost hope already, then you don't know what this team can do. Wisconsin lost their conference opener in 1999 and 2006 and rebounded to 7-1 conference seasons, making and winning the 2000 Rose Bowl and coming within a Michigan loss of the BCS in 2006 (we still got jobbed at the end of the season).
This season isn't like that. Michigan didn't steal Saturday's game; Michigan State outplayed Wisconsin in every conceivable fashion and won a game they NEEDED to win before their big showdown against the Wolverines (GO SPARTANS!) this coming weekend. Bottom line: the Badgers got beat, and that's not a feeling I've had since the Penn State and Iowa games in 2008, when we got so thoroughly outplayed that both teams turned the games into unwatchable routs. Michigan State was the better team.
We've been searching for a solution and found nothing but the sound of silence. There's reason to be concerned this weekend.
This weekend, the Badgers play a very familiar foe. Minnesota. The 2008 game against the Golden Gophers was, I feel, the first come-from-behind win Wisconsin got under Bret Bielema. That game was freezing, it was snowing, and Kyle Jefferson was taken off the field in an ambulance after one of the scariest hits in college football history. But Wisconsin forced an incredible TWO safeties, outscored Minnesota 28-10 in the second half, and took control of a game they had trailed 21-7 at the half. It was an incredible turnaround, and it ensured Minnesota's flameout to 7-5 from 7-1.
This weekend, I don't know. Minnesota has played very poorly on defense to this point, only their offense saving them in losses against South Dakota and Northwestern. They could have WON the Northwestern game but for a huge defensive breakdown and miracle FG (Stefan Demos still didn't have a GREAT game but did what he needed to do). But they are a different team on the road (or so they hope). After starting out an unfathomable 0-4 at home, Minnesota's next road game is at US, and they're angry. They have to be after double digit defeats at the hands of NIU and USC (which is a bad, bad team that should go 1-8 in the Pac-10). They have to be after they lost by a combined 4 points to Northwestern and South Dakota. But an angry team is not a disciplined team, and an undisciplined team will shoot itself with penalties. Remember the 2008 Badgers? They were easily the most flagged team in the conference, if not the nation, and all those flags KILLED them. They didn't need Derrick Williams, Terrelle Pryor, Brandon Minor, Terrance Taylor or Deon Butler to kill them; the Badgers were masters of self-inflicted injuries and badly-disciplined play and it showed on the scoreboards, as they dropped to 1-5 in conference play before the fans could blink (we still beat the Illini by double digits, which is shocking).
I fully expect Minnesota will give us all they've got on Saturday. A comparison is Michigan-ND 2007. Michigan was trying to rebound from an incredible upset and the worst home loss in school history. ND had just been smacked by Penn State (the first ever White Out at Penn State) and thrashed by GT. Michigan shut out Notre Dame 38-0 and went on an unbelievable run, winning their next eight games and eventually defeating that season's Heisman Trophy winner in a thrilling bowl game (Chad Henne somehow > Tim Tebow). Notre Dame bottomed out and went 3-9.
Another comparison is that a Wisconsin win will turn '10 Minnesota into '09 Purdue. That team suffered 5 consecutive losses (3 of which were at home) before it turned around, put a complete game together and STUNNED Ohio State. They went 5-7, but they pulled success out of utter, unmitigated disaster. Minnesota could do the same with a loss Saturday. Now, that's not to suggest that they'll be some sort of upset-minded monster THAT UPSETS OHIO STATE or something, if anything, the record shows that some sort of miracle is going to be needed for them to score a touchdown against Iowa, but...it's possible. Just unlikely. And don't expect Ricky Stanzi to whack Marvin McNutt upside the head.
A loss Saturday for Wisconsin is also possible. Likely consequences: In addition to snapping the streak at six games, the bottom falls out and "Fire Bret Bielema" is not only heard but ACTED upon, no matter what the results against Ohio State and Iowa. John Clay departs early for the NFL in the midst of utter chaos in the Athletic Department. The loss sets the program back a decade. And they drop out of the polls for good and no politicking will save that.
Bottom line: This Saturday is going to be a must-watch game, one that could turn Wisconsin up and Minnesota down, or have Minnesota pull Wisconsin down with it. Recent history in Madison does not favor the Gophers at all; their last win in Camp Randall was 1994. There are juniors in high school who have never known what a home loss to Minnesota feels like. The 2006 matchup, when Wisconsin went 7-1 in the Big Ten and Minnesota was in the tail-end of the Mason administration, ended up with Wisconsin winning 48-12. Two years ago, a bad Wisconsin team (used DESTINY BOND) took Minnesota with it to a 7-5 finish after a 7-1 start.
The season isn't over by far. I'm not happy about having this game SO SOON (I'd like to play Purdue now, please) but it definitely is a must-win for Bret Bielema.
Have fun, guys.