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Updated: November 19th, 2013 4:35pm
Zulgad: Focus shifts from Vikings-Packers to Gophers-Badgers matchup

Zulgad: Focus shifts from Vikings-Packers to Gophers-Badgers matchup

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The biggest surprise of the 2013 football season in Minnesota might be found in the following three words: It's Badgers Week.

Longtime sports enthusiasts in the state know that in most years this would be considered Packers Week.

The Vikings-Packers rivalry dates to 1961 -- Minnesota's first season with an NFL franchise -- and for many of those years the games against Green Bay have been highly anticipated and the dominant topic on both sides of the border.

Interest in anything the Gophers have been doing on the football field? That hasn't exactly been a priority.

And that is what makes this week so unique.

While the Gophers' opened as 15-point underdogs for Saturday's game against the Wisconsin Badgers at TCF Bank Stadium, the projected spread should do nothing to take away from the enjoyment longtime followers of this program will get from having the focus on their team.

The Vikings are sitting at 2-8 and are irrelevant for the second time in three seasons. The Packers, minus all-world quarterback Aaron Rodgers, are sitting at 5-5 and will start former Badger Scott Tolzien for the second week in a row.

The game remains important for the Packers, who are in the thick of the race for the NFC North, but means little to the Vikings, unless you're rooting for a loss to improve the team's draft status.

Collectively, this game will get a yawn from many in the Twin Cities, just as the Vikings-Packers did when they met in late October at the Metrodome.

The Gophers, meanwhile, are second to Michigan State in the Legends Division of the Big Ten with a 4-2 record - the Spartans are 6-0 - and are 8-2 overall. The Badgers are second to Ohio State in the Leaders Division with a 5-1 record and also are 8-2 overall.

Wisconsin is coming off a 51-3 rout of Indiana and hasn't lost since falling at Ohio State on Sept. 28. The Gophers have won four in a row in the Big Ten and haven't lost since Oct. 5.

A cold front will hit the Twin Cities this weekend and, according to Eyewitness News weather guy Pat Hammer, the temperature at 2:30 p.m., when the game kicks off Saturday, will be hovering around 18 degrees.

That could make it one of the coldest home games the Gophers have played in school history. (The weather, of course, wasn't a factor from 1982 to 2010 when the Gophers played in the Metrodome.) In other words, this game will be played in real football weather, something that should add to the intrigue.

The Badgers have the second-ranked rushing offense in the Big Ten (307.9 yards per game) and the third-ranked rushing defense (99.3). This sets up well for a chilly game, but the Gophers offense should test the Badgers with a rushing attack that is fourth in the conference (218.5).

Given the expectations for Gophers football through the years, it was stated here a few weeks ago that if Minnesota extended its winning streak to four with a victory over Penn State that the season would be a success.

Saturday's game against Wisconsin will be followed by the regular-season finale at Michigan State. Winning either of these seems like a long shot, and there is no guarantee that the Gophers' success will continue into 2014.

Right now, that shouldn't be a concern for Minnesota fans.

They simply should be happy that attention normally reserved for Vikings-Packers has shifted to their team's game against its rival from Wisconsin for at least one year. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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