Nov. 23, 2022: In a season of missed opportunity and disappointment, the Gophers will look to finish 2022 on a high note with a victory over rival Wisconsin.
–> Follow @Tony Liebert on Twitter
- Date: Sat., Nov. 26
- TV channel: ESPN
- Time of kickoff: 2:30 p.m. (CST)
- Broadcast team: n/a (play-by-play) & n/a (color)
- Betting line: Minnesota (+3) @ Wisconsin, o/u: (34.5 points)
Opponent Information (Wisconsin):
- 2021 record: 9-4
- Las Vegas Bowl vs. Arizona State 20-13 W
- 2022 record: 6-5
- V. Illinois State (FCS) 38-0 W
- V. Washington State 14-17 L
- V. New Mexico State 66-7 W
- @ Ohio State 21-52 L
- V. Illinois 10-34 L
- @ Northwestern 42-7 W
- @ Michigan State 28-34 L
- V. Purdue 35-24 W
- V. Maryland 23-10 W
- @ Iowa 10-24 L
- @ Nebraska 15-14 W
- Head Coach: Jim Leonhard (interim)
- Players to watch: Braelon Allen (RB), Nick Herbig (LB), Keanu Benton (DT), Graham Mertz (QB), Jay Shaw (CB)
Wisconsin shocked the college football world when longtime head coach Paul Chryst was fired in early October. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard took over as interim head coach, and the Badgers have continued to be competitive in the Big Ten West. As preseason favorites in the division, a 6-5 record is far from impressive, but Wisconsin has remained one of the toughest teams to play in the conference.
Wisconsin Season Storylines:
- Paul Chryst fired mid-season:
After seven seasons and a 67-26 record, Wisconsin decided to fire longtime head coach Paul Chryst following a surprising 24-point home loss to Illinois. Chryst epitomized Badgers’ football, so his firing was a serious shock to most people who even observe the program from afar. It seemed as if the program saw where it was going and wanted to evolve with the sport. Chryst’s old-school style seemed to be going out of style.
In comes defensive coordinating prodigy Jim Leonhard. As a former Badgers player, Leonard has been hyped up as one of the brightest young minds in the sport since he started leading the defense in 2017. The further we get away from Chryst’s firing the more likely it seems that Leonhard will assume the permanent head coaching role after the season.
- Graham Mertz’s development:
Former top-75 4-star QB recruit Graham Mertz was supposed to be the one to take Wisconsin football to new heights. Fast forward to his third season as a full-time starter, he is really no different than any Wisconsin quarterback before him. Since Chryst’s firing Mertz has played some of the best football of his career. With 11 touchdowns and only four interceptions over the last six games, Wisconsin’s offense has begun to find its stride. While Mertz still might be a solid college QB it is fun to look back at a talent that Wisconsin fans thought was the second coming of prime Joe Burrow.
- Where is Wisconsin going?:
The firing of Paul Chryst was fascinating in more aspects than one. It seems as if the Wisconsin administration was not happy with recruiting or the program’s adaptation to NIL reform with him at the helm. While this was happening he still lead the Badgers as one of the most consistent college football programs in the country, with 10+ wins four different times across seven seasons.
So the question arises, what does Wisconsin want to be? I personally think they’ve found their ceiling as a program. The Badgers will compete for Rose Bowls and Big Ten Championships, but I don’t think they will ever be on the level of Ohio State or Michigan to compete for National Championships. I am not sure if Wisconsin thinks Jim Leonhard will take it to a National Championship, and I am not sure if it is even possible. Nevertheless, the Wisconsin football program is amidst a very interesting transition and will be fascinating to follow over the next five years.
Gophers’ path to victory:
The most simple way for the Gophers to beat Wisconsin is to avoid what happened against Iowa. This game will be played in a very similar style and the turnover battle will once again have a tremendous impact on the outcome.
Wisconsin’s defense is impressive (20.3 PPG), but the 29th-best mark in college football is far from its normal standards. I believe there will be more opportunities for Minnesota to find the back of the endzone this week compared to last.
P.J. Fleck and the Gophers simply have to go into Madison and take this game. If they coach and play aggressively I believe they are more than capable of retaining Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Unfortunately, that is a big if.