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Wisconsin football: Jerry Kill, Gophers want Paul Bunyan's Axe back from Badgers

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Wisconsin has possessed Paul Bunyan's Axe since 2004. Naturally, it would make sense for Minnesota to want it back, and the Gophers do -- badly.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Wisconsin vs. Minnesota is perennially a fun game. This season, the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe should be even more exciting.

The Badgers have won each of the last 11 games in college football’s longest-running rivalry. It’s no secret. Both sides are well aware of it.

Speaking Friday at Big Ten media days in Chicago, the Golden Gophers' contingent of head coach Jerry Kill, defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun, defensive lineman Thieren Cockran and quarterback Mitch Leidner voiced their anticipation for this season’s final-week game against the Badgers.

"Last year, we were one game away from playing (in the Big Ten Championship game)," Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. "And, really, Wisconsin has been the one that's kept us out of there, and I feel like we had a lot of success last year.

"We got three trophies, but we don't have ‑‑ we haven't had the Axe in a long time. I think that's been the issue."

In 2014, the two rivals squared off in the last game of the season -- as they will continue to do each year under current the Big Ten scheduling format -- in a de facto Big Ten West championship game. The Gophers jumped out to a 17-3 lead, but junior running back Melvin Gordon then broke out for 151 yards rushing, junior quarterback Joel Stave stepped up with 215 yards passing and two touchdown passes, and the Wisconsin defense kept Minnesota to one more score as the Badgers retained the Axe in front of their home crowd in a 34-24 victory.

"I want that axe so bad, so badly," Leidner said. "I wanted it last year and things happen and momentum shifts, and sometimes that’s the way it works out."

Just seven days after Wisconsin’s 34-24 win, they were demoralized by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game, 59-0. Minnesota looked on.

"It made me feel good in the sense that showed me, that’s supposed to be us," Calhoun said.

"We played Ohio State tough, had a crushing loss to Wisconsin. I felt that was supposed to be us in that game. And then with Wisconsin being rivals, whenever they get shut out, zero points, you kind of like that no matter who it is."

The Axe is one of the most prized possessions in Wisconsin athletics. It’s paraded around throughout the state and various fairs and festivals. It’s, once again, one of Minnesota’s targets for 2015.

"The fans want it, we want it," Cockran said. "That’s definitely one of our goals for the year."

Under Kill, the Gophers are working to establish themselves into the role the Badgers have been -- a consistent contender in the Big Ten.

"I think they do a good job from AD down of just building that culture at Wisconsin that we’re going to win here and we’re going to win this right way, and that way has been working for a long time," Boddy-Calhoun said. "And I think that’s what we’re developing at Minnesota.

To play a team like Wisconsin, you have to fight through adversity, you have to be able to think while you’re tired, do your job while you’re tired."

The two teams will meet on Nov. 28 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota. Leidner wouldn’t mind if that game came a little sooner.

"I wish we played Wisconsin the first game of the year this year. That’s how badly I want the Axe."