No Big Ten West for waffles

MINNEAPOLIS – The University of Minnesota’s hopes and dreams of winning the Big Ten West were dashed on Friday.

Minnesota needed a four-team tie for first place in the division in order to advance on the tiebreaker and go to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis next week. The first domino did not fall.

Minnesota needed Nebraska to beat No.16 Iowa in Lincoln, Neb. On Friday, but the Cornhuskers lost a 21-6 third-quarter lead in a 28-21 loss to the Hawkeyes (10 -2, 7-2 Big Ten).

Minnesota also needed Purdue to beat Indiana on Saturday in addition to their own victory over No.14 Wisconsin in the Paul Bunyan ax battle at 3 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Now the Gophers (7-4, 5-3) can prevent the Badgers (8-3, 6-2) from going to the conference title game with a win over their rivals. If Wisconsin wins, the Badgers would break the tie with Iowa due to their head-to-head victory in late October.

Gophers head coach PJ Fleck said he was working to guard against how this exact situation could create “sad people” around the schedule on Friday night. He spoke to his players about the way he wanted them to approach him.

“We kind of ignore it, we really are,” Fleck insisted. “The only objective is the ax. It’s not about the Championship or the West or anything like that.

The Gophers alone held the division lead in early November before losses to Illinois and Iowa made them dependent on other results. “A couple of weeks ago we left that out of our control by the way we played losing a game,” said Fleck. “We had control, and now we are no longer in control. What we control is how we play against Wisconsin, and that’s the only thing we’re going to talk about.

The Gophers, a seven-point underdog, can win the Axis for the first time at home since 2003. A win would also be Minnesota’s second in four years, including a 35-17 victory at Madison, Wisconsin, in 2018.

“The ax is what matters,” Fleck continued. “The ax is the ax, and that’s the topic of this week.”

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