No. 8 Minnesota’s dream of playing for the Big Ten championship was crushed by No. 12 Wisconsin on Saturday.
The Badgers went into snowy Minneapolis and dominated the Gophers 38-17 in what amounted to a Big Ten West title game. The Badgers took a 10-7 lead just before halftime before blitzing the Gophers in the second half to clinch the division title and set up a matchup with No. 1 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis next weekend.
While Minnesota was mostly able to keep Wisconsin’s vaunted Jonathan Taylor-led ground attack in check, Jack Coan was able to gash the Gophers through the air. He hit Taylor for a 28-yard touchdown pass on a wheel route with 2:49 left in the first half. And on Wisconsin’s first second-half drive, Coan found Quintez Cephus for two big gains, including a 47-yard touchdown that increased the Badgers’ lead to 17-7.
Minnesota would respond with a field goal drive, but the Badgers poured it on from there. The Wisconsin offense scored on its next three drives but perhaps the killer for the Gophers was a lengthy drive that ended with a turnover on downs near the goal line. Minnesota marched 71 yards in 14 plays in a drive that spanned 6:37, but two passes from Tanner Morgan to Tyler Johnson were well-defended, and the Gophers were kept out of the end zone.
Later on, Morgan would lose the ball on a sack to set up yet another Wisconsin score, a score that completely put the game out of reach, return Paul Bunyan’s axe back to Madison and end Minnesota’s College Football Playoff hopes.
— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) December 1, 2019
Another division title for Wisconsin
Wisconsin was considered one of the favorites to win the West when the season began, but it ended up taking a circuitous route to clinch the trip to Indianapolis.
The Badgers started the year 6-0, giving up a combined 29 points during that span. But things went sideways when Wisconsin was upset 24-23 by Illinois in Champaign back on Oct. 19. A blowout loss to Ohio State came a week later and all of a sudden the Badgers had to play catch-up while Minnesota surged to a 9-0 start.
From there, Wisconsin won its next three and got some help from Iowa, which gave Minnesota its first loss on Nov. 16. That set up Saturday’s trip to Minneapolis with the division on the line, and Paul Chryst’s team played one of its best games of the year.
Now the Badgers get another shot at the top-ranked Buckeyes, who improved to 12-0 by trouncing Michigan in Ann Arbor earlier Saturday. The first time the two teams met the game was competitive early before OSU blew things open in the second half. Wisconsin is hoping to put up more of a fight this time around.
Still a historic season for Minnesota
Many around the country were skeptical about Minnesota’s legitimacy until the Gophers upset then-No. 4 Penn State on Nov. 9 to improve to 9-0 on the year and jump into the College Football Playoff mix.
That moment put P.J. Fleck’s program on the map, but the Gophers fell back down to earth the next week in Iowa City. That loss opened the door for Wisconsin, and now the Gophers will end up finishing second in the Big Ten West.
But to reach 10 wins is still a remarkable achievement for the Gophers, even if they came up short of their quest to win the division. Minnesota hadn’t reached 10 wins in a season since 1905 and got to seven Big Ten wins for the first time ever.
Rose Bowl implications
With Ohio State seemingly a lock to reach the College Football Playoff, the next highest-ranked Big Ten team will go to the Rose Bowl. Entering Saturday, Minnesota was ranked No. 8, ahead of No. 10 Penn State and No. 12 Wisconsin.
Wisconsin will surely move up and will get to the Rose Bowl with an upset over Ohio State next week. But if Wisconsin loses, that could open the door for Penn State, which improved to 10-2 by beating Rutgers 27-6 on Saturday, to go to Pasadena ahead of the three-loss Badgers.
Another possible landing spot would be the Cotton Bowl as an at-large seed. If PSU gets the Rose Bowl and Wisconsin gets the Cotton Bowl, Minnesota would likely drop down to the Outback Bowl.
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