Badger Bits: A competitive Minnesota is a good thing for Wisconsin

The Minnesota Gophers haven't beaten the Badgers since 2003. They haven't won a bowl game since 2004 and their last Big Ten title came in 1967. This season, Minnesota once again is in danger of finishing last or nearly last in the Big Ten. To younger fans like me, the "rivalry" between the two schools has never really had the feel of big game because when the Gophers last topped the Badgers I was in seventh grade.

I'm certainly not trying to gloat about Wisconsin's dominance over the Gophers in recent years. Rather, I'm lamenting the fact that fans from both sides have a pretty good feeling about which team is going to win before they even take the field. That's not what a rivalry is supposed to be about. Michigan fans get to look forward to two huge rivalry games every year in showdowns with Michigan State and Ohio State. The Badgers don't have that kind of rivalry with Minnesota anymore, and that's a shame. Especially with Iowa off the schedule every other season, the Badgers and their fans need those types of games.

I dream of a day when the Wisconsin-Minnesota game is one people circle as a key game in the Big Ten race. With all due respect to the victims involved, the horrific scandal at Penn State likely means the Nittany Lions will struggle as their program picks up the pieces in the next half-decade or more. To a lesser extent, the same could be said for the Jim Tressel-less Ohio State Buckeyes. The door is certainly open for other teams, Minnesota and Wisconsin included.

Minnesota's already out of the Big Ten race this year, but the program has shown signs of life, so maybe the Gophers aren't as far off as we think. The Gophers are coming off their two best games of the season heading into Saturday's game. Even better, they'll return a senior quarterback next year in Marqueis Gray and won't have to deal with a coaching change. Perhaps if they win two of their three remaining games this season will give them confidence heading into 2012. 

Of course, I'd prefer those wins to come against someone besides the Badgers.

- Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward did a fine job against Purdue when Aaron Henry went down. They competed with each other for playing time all season.

- Bret Bielema's misinterpreted comments led to some irritation amongst Penn State and Ohio State fans.

- Several UW assistant coaches received sizable pay raises this season.

- Another reason a more competitive Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry could be so great: the borrowed players.

- I mentioned Marqueis Gray above, and he does appear to be maturing rapidly. That's a good sign for Minnesota fans.

- The Minneapolis Star Tribune's headline for their Wisconsin preview: Wisconsin football a big red machine.

- Dave Heller's list of predictions from around the web can be found here.

Hoops

- The Badgers have a very young stable of post players behind Jared Berggren. Freshman forward Frank Kaminsky might be involved in the rotation at some point, but he'll have to toughen up first.

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