There are, I believe, two kinds of rivalries. We'll see one in Camp Randall Stadium next week as Michigan State comes to town. The Wisconsin-Michigan State rivalry isn't one with much historical significance -- the two teams have rarely been good at the same time and each has bigger historical ties with closer geographic rivals. But the moments between Wisconsin and Michigan State have done far more to define their programs of late than, say, Michigan State's trophy game with Indiana or Wisconsin's with Minnesota.
But these can fade away. If one or both of Wisconsin or Michigan State return to the mediocrity that once defined each program, the moments that have charged 2010 and 2011 will fall out of focus, and we'll return to the rivalries that defined the programs from the start. For Michigan State, there's the "little brother" rivalry with Michigan. And at Wisconsin, we'll always have Minnesota.
Maybe Wisconsin-Minnesota isn't much of a rivalry now -- Saturday's win marked the Badgers' ninth straight in the series -- but the proximity and history between the two states and the two schools will always keep Badger-Gopher gameday marked on calendars. And the history, some may be surprised to see, tells a far more balanced story than the current landscape as necessarily defined in four-year windows on campus.
Saturday marked the 120th game in the history of the rivalry. Wisconsin earned its 55th victory against 57 losses and eight ties. It may surprise some to see Wisconsin trailing Minnesota in the overall history of the rivalry, but Minnesota was a football power in the game's early days.
Minnesota dominated the rivalry and the college football scene in general in the 1930s and early 1940s, taking home at least shares of five National Championships between 1934 and 1941. The Gophers rattled off their longest winning streak against against Wisconsin, a nine-game stretch of their own from 1933 to 1941.
Since then, the Badgers have been playing from behind. Their resurgence in the Barry Alvarez era combined with the Gophers' sharp decline in the final years of Glen Mason's tenure and beyond have nearly evened things out:
The bars represent the victory margin from the Badgers' standpoint, while the black line represents the point margin. As you can see, it was for many years a Gopher-dominated rivalry.
Although the Badgers didn't take the overall series lead Saturday, they did make progress on one statistic of note, taking over the overall points lead 2,028-2,011 for the first time since 1903.
Even in what was looking like a down year for Badger football under Bret Bielema, Wisconsin handled the Gophers without issue. Jerry Kill's squad is reeling after a good start to the season. Even with two of the next three games at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the Badgers will likely take the series lead after the 2015 season for the first time since 1908.
For now, it's a different kind of rivalry than the Badgers enjoy with Michigan State -- instead of a competitive fire, Wisconsin-Minnesota now represents a certain calm of tradition. Perhaps one day it will swing back to the competitive days of the 1970s and 1980s or even the Minnesota dominance of the 1930s, but for now the question is how far Wisconsin's ownership of the Axe can extend.
All data from Sports-Reference.com/cfb