Throughout this week, at the recommendation of the coaching staff, various seniors on the University of Wisconsin football team will stand in front of their teammates and explain what Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the prize for winning the Wisconsin vs. Minnesota game, means to them.

No. 5 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) hosts Minnesota (8-3, 5-3) at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday at 2:30 p.m. A UW victory clinches the Badgers’ second Big Ten West division title in three years and sends the team to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game.

Fifth-year senior outside linebacker and captain Vince Biegel will be one of the players to speak. His recruiting class, a small group, endured two coaching changes during their tenure at Wisconsin. A victorious effort in their final home game can guarantee at least two more games for them in the cardinal and white uniforms.

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The Axe represents so much more than individual. It represents victory. It represents excellence.

And, lately, it has represented dominance.

Wisconsin has kept the Axe for 12 consecutive years. The last time the Gophers beat the Badgers, George W. Bush was still serving his first term as president. Saturday’s situation will feel familiar for Wisconsin. Two years ago, it came down to the final game of the regular season to determine the West champion, and Wisconsin emerged on the winning side 34-24.

“There’s always a lot on the line, a lot at stake,” Biegel said. “I know Minnesota is hungry to go in there and get a win. We’re obviously hungry as heck, so this week of preparation is going to be extremely important for us to stay focused and take it one game at a time. Our next game is Minnesota. This is the most important game of the season. It could be said the season would be in vain if we didn’t take care of business this week.”

A perfect example of this is fifth-year senior running back Dare Ogunbowale’s story about a certain play during practice from his first Axe Week when he was just a freshman cornerback on the scout team.

Travis Frederick, now with the Dallas Cowboys and one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen, cut him out of nowhere on a routine play. Confused, Ogunbowale asked Frederick why the sudden aggression.

“It’s axe week,” the veteran reminded the rookie.

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By kickoff Saturday, the Badgers will know if it is a truly must-win game to advance to the conference championship. If Nebraska loses to Iowa on Friday, then the Badgers will automatically clinch their berth to Indy. Leo Musso, another fifth-year senior, said UW’s focus is on only what it can control.

“Everything will work out at the end of the day,” Musso said.

Musso and the Badgers experienced the anguish of having a trophy taken from them last season against Iowa. It was the only trophy game the senior class has lost during their time at UW.

Senior Sojourn Shelton, who grew up in Florida, wasn’t aware of the intensity of the rivalry. That changed quickly upon his arrival in Madison.

“I don’t have any problems with people from Minnesota,” Shelton said. “But you know what? I dislike that team, just playing from here. It’s a big game. It’s a big rivalry.”

After Wisconsin’s 20-7 win over Minnesota in 2013, bad blood between the two teams boiled over when UW tried to metaphorically chop down the Minnesota goal post with the Axe. Gopher players blocked them from doing do and an altercation ensued. Now, the trophy will be off the field until the conclusion of the game, when the winning team can grab it and bring it back on the field.

During that 2013 celebration former linebacker Chris Borland carried Shelton, who was carrying a sign that simply read “10,” which marked the streak at the time, one of Shelton’s fondest memories of the rivalry.

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UW will have a chance to tie the all-time series record, which currently stands at 59-58-8.

The Gophers boast one of the better defensive lines in the Big Ten and are rank third in rushing defense in the Big Ten. But they are second-to-last in passing defense.

“They’re a good defense,” Ogunbowale said. “They’ve got some good players. It’s not going to be easy to run the ball against them.”

Ogunbowale also said the offensive outbursts of the last two games (48 and 49 points) means the offense improved as the season progressed, which is a good sign. Over the last six games, UW is averaging 233.3 rushing yards per game, thanks in large part to the emergence of senior running back Corey Clement, who became the 17th player in UW history to break the 1,000-yard mark in a single season.

Offensively, senior Mitch Leidner leads the way a dual-threat style quarterback. Leidner has nine rushing touchdowns compared to six scores through the air and has rushed for 294 yards on the year.

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The picture in the East division is a little murkier than the clear path the Badgers possess in the West.

The Michigan-Ohio State matchup (11 a.m.) will have serious implications. If the Wolverines win at The Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio they will move on to Indianapolis. Penn State, who hosts Michigan State, will advance with a win and a Michigan loss. Ohio State needs to win and for the Spartans to pull off the upset to set up a rematch of the 2014 conference title game.

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Bumbaca’s Prediction

It’s been a heck of a season for the Badgers. They’ve proved the naysayers (me) very wrong, with a Big Ten West title as the ultimate metaphorical middle finger.

Saturday will be a slugfest though, a classic rivalry game. Minnesota tends to start well in these games, and I see the same happening Saturday. The Wisconsin defense will have to punch back and adjust to Leidner and make him uncomfortable, in addition to taking away the run game.

On offense, patience with running the football will be key in anticipation of breaking a big one and to set up the play-action pass to take advantage of the Gophers’ weak secondary.

The Camp Randall grounds crew will be setting up a trophy presentation after the clock hits zero.

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota: Cheat Sheet

When: Saturday, Nov. 26, 2:30 p.m. CT

Where: Madison, Wisconsin, Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)

TV: Big Ten Network (Kevin Kluger, Matt Millen, Lisa Byington)

Radio: Sirius/XM 135 (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Mark Tauscher, Patrick Herb)

Series Record: Minnesota leads 59-58-8

Series Record in Madison: Wisconsin leads 33-22-6

Trophy on the line: Paul Bunyan’s Axe