Looking to Rebuild the Rivalry

After nine straight loses in the series, Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill and seniors Brock Vereen and Ra'shede Hageman are determined to take the axe away from Wisconsin for the first time in their careers. Starting next year, the rivalry will start a new chapter.

CHICAGO - A college football rivalry dating back to 1890 began with a Minnesota win, 63-0 over the Wisconsin – one of the school's series-best 59 wins in the longest running rivalry in division 1 football.

And while that rivalry has been dominated by Wisconsin over the last nine years, closing the all-time series gap to 59-55-8, the Badgers and the Gophers will be able to add another historic chapter to their border battle in 2014.

With the Big Ten realigning divisions and schedules with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, Minnesota and Wisconsin will not only be in the same division, but will end the 2014-17 regular seasons playing each other, something players say will enhance the game's importance.

"As anybody knows, the Minnesota and Wisconsin game is a historical game," Minnesota safety Brock Vereen said during the Big Ten's preseason meetings at the Downtown Hilton Chicago. "For it to be toward the end this season and the last game for quite awhile means a lot. We have not won the axe in so long. It would mean so much to our team if we could get the axe in our trophy case. It's going to be one of the biggest games of the year."

Senior defensive tackle Ra'shede Hageman – who was heavily recruited as a tight end by Wisconsin under then-head coach Bret Bielema - has learned over the years just how difficult it is to win against Wisconsin. Unlucky number 13 has haunted Hageman and his teammates for the past two seasons – losing 42-13 in Minneapolis in 2011 and 38-13 in Madison last year.

"As a freshman, I wasn't educated about the Minnesota and Wisconsin rivalry," said Hageman. "I wouldn't say I didn't care, but it's funny now that it's my senior year I realize how big the game is against them. On the record, Wisconsin is a good team, good program, blah, blah, blah. When you're on that field it's guerrilla warfare.

"I've developed not exactly a hate, but the rivalry and history we have with Wisconsin pumps you up. It took me up until about my senior year to recognize that. The Minnesota and Wisconsin rivalry to me is one of the biggest in college football. You need to put everything aside for that game, whether it's your girlfriend or school, and just focus on Wisconsin. Just thinking about the game gives me goose bumps."

Entering his third season in Minneapolis, head coach Jerry Kill is slightly newer to the Minnesota and Wisconsin rivalry compared to most of his players. And while he recognizes the motivation it provides for his team and the fans, he doesn't have the same kind of reaction as his senior defensive end.

"The most important thing we need to do at Minnesota is we need to make that rivalry more of a rivalry," laughed Kill. "We need to be able to win and make that game a little more difficult for them."

Although the rivalry may not spark the same emotions among Kill and his players, the two sides agree that moving the game to the end of the season will spark some emotions within everyone.

"It kind of boosts our confidence to have the game toward the end of the season, and it will for the younger guys to have it as a last game next year," said Hageman. "It's a long season and people kind of start to drag the last four or five games. But the fact that we have Wisconsin toward the end will motivate us.

"To have a rivalry game at the end of the year is certainly interesting especially for the fans," added Kill. "That rivalry has been going on forever. It certainly doesn't hurt the fan support and keeps your players something to look forward to at the end. That's very important to have for us."

Whatever emotions the rivalry generates, the Gophers contingent agree that after a decade of disappointment against Wisconsin, the group have an axe to grind when they host the Badgers in late November.

"It's a warfare against Wisconsin," said Hageman. "On the field, you have to have the mindset to crack some heads. You want them to hurt too. If we win the axe and they have to drag themselves off the field knowing they lost that would probably be the best feeling in the world."

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