The latest edition of the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe may prove to be more interesting than it has been in recent years. The Minnesota Gophers are in the midst of a surprisingly successful year and even have a slim chance at a division title. But for all the success they've had this year, they are nonetheless multi-touchdown underdogs to the Wisconsin Badgers, who've had their number for almost a decade.
Before these teams played for the axe, they played for the Slab of Bacon trophy, according to Wikipedia. While playing for an axe is pretty cool as far as college trophies go, it's difficult not to feel at least mildly disappointed that the Slab of Bacon is no longer with us.
Rankings and records: Wisconsin is 8-2 (5-1), a game behind Ohio State for first in the Leaders Division. The Badgers rank 16th in the AP Poll, 17th in the Coaches' Poll and 19th in the BCS standings. Minnesota is 8-2 (4-2), two games behind first-place Michigan State in the Legends Division. The Gophers are No. 23 in the Coaches' Poll and No. 25 in the BCS.
Minnesota leads the all-time series 58-56-8.
Vegas: Wisconsin is a 16.5-point favorite.
Weather: Pack a coat. Pack three coats. The high in Minneapolis is expected to be 21.
Three names to know
Melvin Gordon -- Wisconsin continues to churn out 1,000-yard rushers like it's nothin', and this year the team has a pair of them, led by Gordon. He has 1,306 yards and 12 scores on the ground while averaging 8.4 yards per carry, which leads the Big Ten. The Badgers are on a record-breaking pace offensively this season.
Theiren Cockran -- The Minnesota defensive lineman has been one of the better pash rushers in the conference -- he ranks third with 6.5 sacks.
James White -- White is the other Badger running back to break 1,000 yards this season. He hasn't been quite as explosive as his counterpart, but the numbers are still impressive -- he's averaging 6.8 yards per carry and, like Gordon, has a dozen rushing scores.
Two things at stake
Both teams still could theoretically win their respective divisions, but both also need plenty of help. Wisconsin's loss to Ohio State earlier this season means they need to win out while the Buckeyes lose out. The latter is highly unlikely. Minnesota also needs to win out, which would include a season-ending win over Michigan State. The Gophers also need the Spartans to lose to Northwestern this week.
Those longshot scenarios aside, Minnesota and Wisconsin can do themselves a favor in the eyes of bowl scouts by winning.
How to witness
TV: ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET