The biggest game in modern Gopher football history will take place Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium against the Wisconsin Badgers, and there are dozens of variables in play leading up to the 2:30 p.m. kickoff.
1. Rain, ice, snow?
Mother Nature is brewing up another big storm system, and it's definitely going to have impacts in Minnesota. The big question for Minneapolis is if the storm will be rain, mixed precipitation, freezing rain or snow during the game. According to the National Weather Service, all of the above are possible.
Will inclement weather hurt Minnesota's high-powered passing attack and favor Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, who is second in the nation with 1,685 yards and 18 touchdowns?
2. Badgers are favorites
Minnesota is playing at home where they are undefeated this season, but the Badgers enter the game as 2.5-point favorites. That's actually down from the opening line of 4.5 points.
Throw in the fact that Minnesota has won five straight at home by an average of 20+ points and it is borderline insulting to the Gophers.
3. ESPN also doubting the Gophers
Vegas isn't alone in favoring the Badgers. ESPN's Football Power Index gives Wisconsin a 60.8% chance to win, compared to a 39.2% chance for the Gophers. This is the same Football Power Index that correctly picked the Hawkeyes to beat Minnesota.
4. Can anyone stop Jonathan Taylor?
Wisconsin just racked up more than 600 yards of total offense against a miserable Purdue defense, but it doesn't seem to matter who the Badgers play when it comes to Taylor getting big yards.
Taylor has surpassed 200 yards in four games this season, including against the stout rushing defenses of Iowa and Michigan. Minnesota ranks 27th against the run, while Iowa ir ranked 22nd and Michigan is 13th.
5. If the Gophers win...
If Minnesota wins, they claim a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State. Win that and they're likely in the final four for the College Football Playoff with a chance to win a national championship. If they lose to Ohio State, they're still likely bound for the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1962.
6. If the Gophers lose...
If Minnesota loses, Wisconsin gets a seat in the Big Ten title game and a chance at the Rose Bowl or the College Football Playoff. A loss would probably send Minnesota to the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl, possibly against Auburn (that's how ESPN projects things currently).
7. Party in Dinkytown with GameDay
With ESPN set to broadcast in Dinkytown from 8-11 a.m. during a possible winter storm before the biggest Gopher game in ages, you can bet that the booze will be flowing and the entire area will be going crazy by the time the game starts. It could lead to the most raucous crowd in Gophers history, perhaps regardless of sport.
8. The Axe
Most years, this game is about border battle bragging rights and taking possession of Paul Bunyan's Axe, which the Gophers did with a 37-15 win in Madison last season. But the Axe feels like it matters so much less since so much is on the line this time around.
What makes this game even more unbelievable is that it'll mark the 129th meeting in the rivalry's history. Through 128 games, the Gophers and Badgers are an equal 60-60-8.
9. Bateman, Johnson vs. Badgers passing defense
Strong winds and precipitation could play a massive role in both team's ability to throw the ball, but let's say conditions are decent enough to let it rip, can the Badgers hang with Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman?
Johnson and Bateman each have eclipsed 1,000 yards, but this is their toughest challenge yet as Wisconsin boasts the nation's sixth-ranked pass defense, allowing a meager 169.9 yards per game through the air. They've also limited opponents to 13 passing touchdowns.
The Badgers limited Ohio State star quarterback Justin Fields to 12-of-22 passing and two touchdowns, but the Buckeyes otherwise ran the Badgers into the ground in a 38-7 blowout.
There's no doubt Wisconsin can defend the pass, but Tanner Morgan is probably the second best QB they'll have faced. And as Bucky5thQuarter notes, the Badgers have been gashed by big plays this season, and Morgan top five in the nation in yards per completion.
10. Badgers have been prone to turnovers
Wisconsin turned the ball over just six times in the first half of the season, but they've given away the football 12 times in the second half, including four last week against Purdue. Do that against the Gophers and Minnesota will be cruising into the Big Ten title game.