Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Border Battle Week

It's one of those weekends where the Badgers and the Gophers play on Saturday and the Packers and Vikings play on Sunday. That happens some years. What's rare is when the Saturday game is more noteworthy.

If you didn't look up the records and only relied on recent history, you'd assume that the Badgers would hold the all-time series lead in victories over the Gophers. You'd be wrong. It's close now, but the Gophers still lead the all-time series 59-55-8, despite having lost the last 10 in a row. Very few people now living can remember the days when Bernie Bierman's Gopher teams dominated college football in the 1930s. In historical terms, the Gophers have been much more successful, claiming a total of 7 national championships, while the Badgers have never won a national championship. The overall winning percentage for the Badgers is .574 (652-478-51), while the Gophers are sitting at .571 (660-490-44).

It's going to be interesting to see how this game plays out. While much discussion of Jerry Kill's career in Minneapolis has been about his health issues, the talent level has been improving steadily and there's reason to believe that the 8-2 record the Gophers bring into the game is legitimate. Other than a poor performance against Iowa, the Gophers have been pretty solid all season.

Are the Badgers still better? I would think so, and clearly Vegas does, having installed the Badgers as a 15 1/2 or even 16 point favorite. Considering the game is here in the Twin Cities, that's a surprising number; still, it might be right. I think you could argue that this Badgers team is the best one of the last four, given the improvement in team defense. When you realize that the Badgers have been in the Rose Bowl for the last three years, that's saying something. It's a veteran team with the usual assortment of monster offensive linemen and talented running backs. Since the days of Brent Moss and Terrell Fletcher some 20 years ago, the Badgers have often had a 1-2 punch at running back, and with James White and Melvin Gordon, this might the best one they've had. The 1-2 punch is a formula that the Gophers used successfully when they had Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney, but for now the key back is David Cobb, who is having a breakout season.

Although I am an unapologetic Badger fan, I think it's great that the Gophers are improving. The rivalries in college football are what make it fun and the Gopher/Badger rivalry is one of the oldest and best rivalries of all. It's going to be fun on Saturday.


First Ringer said...

I guess I'm not as optimistic on the Gophers' performance, D.

They've had a nice run, but it seems a product of low expectations and a generally weak Big Ten. Looking back at the beginning of the season, I think even pessimistic Gophers fans could have envisioned the team beating Indiana and Penn State. The victories against Nebraska and at Northwestern were welcome surprises, but both programs have completely collapsed. Who would have predicted that Northwestern would be winless in Big Ten play? They entered the year as a conference dark horse.

I agree this weekend is a barometer for how far the Gophers have come, but a 16+ point defeat would actually seem tame coming off of Wisconsin's last win. An 8-4 finish is still making progress, no bones about it, but I think too many Gophers fans have delusions that the team belongs in the conversations with Michigan State & Wisconsin.

R.A. Crankbait said...

The Gophers are improving to the point where their first string talent can compete with most teams. Their bench isn't there yet (though the QB position looks good), but IIRC, they had trouble with Iowa because of OL, DL and DB injuries amongst the starters and the back-ups were pretty well man-handled. That's probably not unusual for a team in the 3rd year of a new program, but teams like Wisconsin can probably go two-deep with players equal to the Minnesota starters.