The last time the Minnesota Gophers captured the Axe from the Wisconsin Badgers, the new millennium was just three years old. Over 59,000 packed inside the Metrodome to witness that version of college football's oldest rivalry and as time on the clock hit zero, kicker Rhys Lloyd and his teammates were racing across the turf to the Wisconsin sideline to claim their prize.
Nearly a decade later, the axe has resided in Wisconsin only making brief stops in Minnesota as if to tease the program and its fans. The Badgers have been dominant, outscoring the Gophers 352-203 in their last nine meetings including 42-13 and 38-13 wins the last two seasons.
This is not the past two years, or the seven prior to that even.
Similar to the 2003 season, the Gophers walked through the non-conference schedule with dominant wins over Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio and Louisiana-Lafayette. They opened up with back to back road wins over Penn State and Northwestern before returning home as the #13 ranked team in the nation and a battle against #20 Michigan.
The Friday night collapse on national television could have derailed Glen Mason's team for the season. The Gophers lost that game after blowing a 28 point lead and they would go on to lose the next week against #15 Michigan State to even their BIG 10 record at 2-2.
They rebounded convincingly over the next two weeks with blowout wins over Illinois and Indiana setting up the border battle against Wisconsin.
After a 6-yard touchdown run by Thomas Tapeh with 2:01 left in the half, the Gophers led 24-6. The Badgers would score back to back touchdowns to pull within four, and Jim Sorgi threw his third of four touchdown passes with 1:35 left in the third quarter, the game was tied at 27. Barber scored on an 11-yard run early in the final quarter to regain the lead, but that score was quickly answered with Owen Daniels brought in a 26-yard pass from Sorgi knotting the game at 34 with 7:15 left.
Mason told his team not to forget to get the Axe before Lloyd drilled the game winner from 35 yards away giving the Gophers just their second win in their previous nine tries against the Badgers.
In similar fashion, Jerry Kill's team has a solid running game that has propelled the program to an 8-2 record in similar fashion.
The Gophers rolled through their non-conference schedule and after losing their first two conference games against Iowa and Michigan, have won four straight against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana and Penn State.
For the first time since 1901, both teams enter the game six games over .500 and the weather is going to be cold with game time temperatures around 17 degrees and with the wind chill factor, it's going to feel more like 5 degrees. No problem for Kill and his squad.
"It's gonna be colder," Kill said during his weekly media press conference. "It kind of adds to what it's all about. It's old fashioned football, Midwest, cold, windy."
If the Axe is going to remain on the west side of this rivalry, the Gophers are going to have to continue the consistent play they have exhibited over the course of the last month. Quarterback Philip Nelson has played the best football of his career in that span and has balanced the offense as running back David Cobb makes a play to become the first Minnesota back to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since Amir Pinix in 2006.