MADISON, Wis. - Even with the new divisional format, the Badgers are guaranteed to play the Minnesota Golden Gophers every year. The preservation of the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe came at the cost of the annual rivalry with Iowa, but the nation's oldest rivalry game endures. The Badgers and the Gophers will play for the 121st time on Saturday, and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema knows his team has a chance to redeem their road woes.
"Coach Kill's got those guys playing very well," Bielema said. "[It's] a tremendous challenge, but one that I think our kids are excited about, and hopefully have an opportunity to go on the road and play better than we have on our last two opportunities."
And don't expect much animosity between the head coaches, who have known each other for a long time and have stated their mutual admiration for each other in the past. Bielema told reporters earlier in the year that he used to direct high school football players to Kill when he was at Southern Illinois, if they had a passion for football but for one reason or another couldn't play for the Badgers.
That's quite a contrast from the last few years, when there was no love lost between Bielema and former Gopher coach Tim Brewster. Last year's matchup ignited a firestorm after Bielema tried for a two point conversion late in the game, and Brewster confronted him after the game.
But despite the less hostile relationship between the two coaches, this week is still all about keeping Paul Bunyan's Axe in Madison. In fact, Bielema has not been afraid to hit his players where it hurts when it comes to one of the nation's most recognizable trophies. He said a few years back he had the strength coaches dress in Gopher uniforms and run across the field to "steal" the Axe.
"They had never seen the trophy lose before, most of them, and I wanted them to feel what that was going to be like," Bielema said.
-- There's a chance junior defensive end David Gilbert could return to practice this week after breaking his foot, but I wouldn't count on it. Look for Gilbert to play again next week against Illinois.
-- Senior safety Aaron Henry might not make it back to practice on Tuesday after suffering an ankle injury against Purdue, but Bielema expects his captain to return Wednesday and be ready to play against the Gophers.
News and Notes
-- Bielema alluded to bringing in a mystery guest speaker for his team this week, but wouldn't give away the surprise. The only hint he gave was that the speaker has played and coached on both sides of the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry.
-- The Badgers will take on Illinois on Nov. 19, and the game is set to kick off at 11:00 AM CST. The Badgers' 11th game of the season will air on either ESPN or ESPN2.
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