Minnesota, in last shot to secure bowl eligibility, faces Wisconsin

Minnesota’s final chance to secure bowl eligibility arrives when Wisconsin visits for a Big Ten matchup on Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis.

The Golden Gophers (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) missed out on three consecutive chances to qualify for a bowl bid, coming off losses against Illinois, Purdue and No. 2 Ohio State.

The finale of the 2023 regular season is the annual border battle against a top rival that would love to ruin Minnesota’s hopes.

“We’ve just got to know as a team that it’s on the line right here,” Golden Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis said. “This is a really big game for us. We’re going to go play our best football.”

It’s also a big game for Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4). The Badgers, looking to finish with a winning record on the season and in conference play in the first season under coach Luke Fickell, beat Nebraska last week to snap a three-game losing streak.

With the 24-17 win, Wisconsin became bowl eligible for the 22nd consecutive season. The Badgers can bolster their bowl resume with a road win to end the regular season.

Fickell said he asked the team’s upperclassmen to explain to their younger teammates how important the rivalry game is against Minnesota.

“The guys that have been here so long are the ones who lead us,” Fickell said. “The guys in the locker room who have been in this rivalry are the ones we ask to be in the forefront of it.”

The winning team will receive “Paul Bunyan’s Axe,” a prize that has existed since 1948. The series goes back even further than that, with the programs tied 62-62-8 as they enter their 133rd all-time meeting.

Kaliakmanis will try to finish the regular season on a positive note for Minnesota. He has passed for 1,671 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai also is looking to end on a high note. During an injury-marred season, he has passed for 1,542 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.