MADISON — It’s the way a regular season should finish: with a trophy game against your program’s oldest rival with the prize of a division title waiting in the wings.
Nebraska losing to Iowa on Friday would clinch the Big Ten West division for the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten), but to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for the 13th straight season and to secure the trip to Indianapolis, UW will have to beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-3, 5-3) at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
It will be the 126th meeting between the two programs, marking the most-played rivalry in the FBS.
“I know it’s always special in this game,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said on Monday. “I’ve been lucky to go the Minnesota/Wisconsin game with my dad, just me and him in the stands, and then when he was coaching. I got a chance to be a part of it as a player, and then as a coach here.”
Despite the Badgers owning the past dozen matchups, there’s a healthy amount of respect for the Gophers, who have won five of their last six games.
“A lot of respect for Minnesota and the way they’re playing,” Chryst said. “I think they’re playing really good football right now, and our kids are excited for the opportunity to play them. For our seniors, last game at Camp Randall—it’s an exciting week and looking forward to a really good week of preparation with our kids.”
The highlights from Chryst’s 10-minute press conference:
- On the Gophers’ defense (they’ve recorded 33 sacks, tied for second in the Big TEn): “I think they’re playing really well up front. They do enough with ’backers and enough schematically to challenge you, but I think they’re playing with a lot of confidence. I think it’s a good scheme, and I think they’re playing at a high-level right now.”
- Memories of the rivalry as a player: “My senior year, we won the Axe. I remember we we had a talented team my freshman year. That was [Minnesota quarterback] Rickey Foggie’s freshman year, and they beat us in that one. ... I’ve erased most of the memories from my playing career.”
- Andrew Endicott’s rebounding: “I think he’s done a nice job of focusing on the things that he can control, and I think he’s been good. We got to have another good week—he’s no different than any of our players.”
- On seniors: “Fortunately for me, you see them as individuals. I haven’t taken time yet to think about the group, but there were some of them I knew when they were young and we were starting to recruiting them. There’s others that I first met them my first day here. I went through that as a player—I know it’s hard when you go through coaching changes—and yet I think there’s times in life that’s hard. I appreciated the way that they’ve worked through it, and one thing you can also see is how that group comes together. You come together in good times and in times that test you, and I think they’ll have that bond for life. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the individuals. There’s some really special guys that make up that group.”
- On Ryan Ramczyk and his potential coming out of high school: “I don’t think you ever really know when you’re recruiting. We thought a lot of him. We didn’t do a great job of recruiting him because he didn’t come to our place, but we thought he had a chance to be a really good football player. You know what, it’s because of what he’s done and the work he’s put in. He’s now having a really good year and is a heck of a football player.”
- What has changed with Corey Clement since the bye week (five of six games over 100 rushing yards): “I think that Corey’s trying to get better each week. Learning from the things either that he does well in building on it or things that he wasn’t doing. I think that there’s nothing magical to it. I think that there are guys around him, too, that are getting better too, so I think it’s a culmination of a lot of things. I don’t think he’s had the one ‘a-ha’ moment that all of a sudden, something happened. I think it’s just been more methodical, but it’s been work. He’s put in time and others around him have done the same.”
- Senior Day for Chryst himself: “I think it’s interesting, as I think about it, and take a little bit of time when we’re coming back from Purdue—it’s their last home game at Camp Randall. I think it’s really special for the families and their loved ones that have been supporting them throughout this journey. ... I’m going to see them probably that next day, and we get a chance to play another game. So you want them to be appreciative of what it marks, and yet you can’t put a whole five years, four years, into one day. But I think you want to be thankful for what they’ve done—that’s where I am. I appreciate what they’ve done, and you want them to enjoy that day, and the best way to enjoy it is playing really well.”
- How much does Chryst think are Vince Biegel and Clement are enjoying their senior year: “I think they’re having fun. I think this group is a fun group to be around, and they’re a part of it. They’re a big part of that. I think that this team, day in and day out, they’re fun to be around, and there’s energy with it. I think that’s what we all want to be part of is a team that cares about each other and works hard, but has fun doing it.”
- “What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food?” Laughs and stands up to head out