MADISON – Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst should send a note of thanks to the Big Ten Conference schedule maker.
With his football team unbeaten and a date with Ohio State in the Big Ten title game looming, Chryst couldn't have selected a better foe to keep his players' attention for the regular-season finale.
CFP rankings reaction: Are Miami and Clemson that close?
Minnesota. Paul Bunyan's Axe.
Trap game? Letdown?
"That is one of the things they mark on their calendar," senior outside linebacker Garret Dooley said of the Gophers, who have lost to UW 13 consecutive times and last won the battle for the Axe in 2003. "I know that it would haunt us if we didn't have that for a whole year. I think everyone knows the importance of this week.
"They're going to be fighting their tails off this game, and we've got to make sure we're 100% focused throughout this week at practice."
UW (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) will be No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings when it faces the Gophers (5-6, 2-6) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
With the top 10 teams all winning last week, the revealing of the fourth rankings Tuesday night on ESPN offered little drama:
Alabama (11-0) remained No. 1, followed by No. 2 Miami (10-0), which jumped over Clemson (10-1) this week. The Tigers were No. 3 followed by No. 4 Oklahoma (10-1), UW (11-0), No. 6 Auburn (9-2), No. 7 Georgia (10-1), No. 8 Notre Dame (9-2), No. 9 Ohio State (9-2) and No. 10 Penn State (9-2).
The four UW players who met with reporters on Monday -- Dooley, linebacker T.J. Edwards, tight end Troy Fumagalli and left tackle Michael Deiter -- left no doubt about their focus this week.
"We're looking to have one or our most complete games in the three phases -- offense, defense and special teams," Dooley said. "We just want to come out fast, come out physical and get the Axe back to Madison."
UW is a 17-point favorite over the Gophers, who are coming off a 39-0 loss to Northwestern and likely must win to secure a bowl berth.
Minnesota led UW by double digits in the first half in 2014 and last season but UW rallied and won by double digits. UW's average margin of victory during the 13-game streak is 15.1 points.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 20, 2017
Jonathan Taylor earns his seventh Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor, tying him for the most in conference history. #OnWisconsin pic.twitter.com/18wo78DyoY
Deiter knows the past won't matter Saturday.
"It's football and it's Big Ten football," he said. "So if you go into any game (assuming) you're going to win, you're probably going to lose, especially a rivalry game like this.
"We'll see their best and everything they have to offer. And you wouldn't want that any other way."
UW players have been able to watch videos this week of past games with Minnesota, victories and defeats.
Inside linebackers coach Bob Bostad was asked to give the annual speech to the players about the meaning of the game and the importance of respecting the rivalry.
Talk about a scoop and score...— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 20, 2017
After he took his first career punt return touchdown 50 yards to the house on Saturday, Nick Nelson is Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week. #OnWisconsin pic.twitter.com/d9DtHKjIMR
A native of Pardeeville who graduated from UW-Stevens Point, Bostad has seen both sides.
He was a graduate assistant at Minnesota from 1992-'94 and then was an assistant at UW from 2006-'11.
"We know the history," Edwards said. "It is going to be fun. I think guys came out with a huge edge and ready to just get up there and play. I wish it was Saturday already."
While Tuesday provided fans the fourth College Football Playoff rankings, UW players and coaches likely stayed away from the tube.
Their focus is elsewhere.
"The Axe is, in my opinion, our true rivalry," Fumagalli said. "It's always fun. We always get Minnesota's best game. The last couple years we were down early. We know it's going to be a dogfight."
This article is written by Jeff Potrykus from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.