Minnesota Northwestern Football

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck left, celebrates with wide receiver Rashod Bateman (13) after Bateman caught a touchdown pass during the first half last week against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.

Of all the Big Ten rivalry games this weekend, none will be bigger than No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 9 Minnesota.

The two schools will be playing for more than Paul Bunyan’s Axe on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The winner will clinch the Big Ten West, and a trip to Indianapolis to face No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 7.

Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck won over plenty of fans last season when the Gophers upset Wisconsin 37-15 in Madison, ending Wisconsin’s 14-game win streak in the series. Fleck and the Gophers have carried over that momentum into this season, starting the year 9-0 before falling at Iowa. Minnesota (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) bounced back last week with a 38-22 win at Northwestern.

Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2) is surging behind junior running back and Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor, who has rushed for 200 or more yards in each of his last three games. Expect Wisconsin to feature a heavy dose of Taylor against a Minnesota run defense that ranks a pedestrian seventh in the conference (123.9 ypg allowed).

ESPN’s College GameDay will be in town for the matchup, and the ebullient Fleck could cement Big Ten Coach of the Year honors if the Gophers win. Minnesota hasn’t won a Big Ten football title since sharing the crown with Purdue and Indiana in 1967. That year, the Hoosiers represented the conference at the Rose Bowl, losing to USC.

GARDEN STATE OF DISARRAY

Rutgers is back to Square 1 in its football coaching search after former RU coach Greg Schiano withdrew his name from consideration Sunday.

According to multiple reports, Schiano, who led the Scarlet Knights to a 68-67 mark and six bowl appearances in his stint there from 2001-11, negotiated for three weeks behind the scenes to try to get resources he felt necessary to compete in the Big Ten. Among Schiano’s demands were a significant upgrade in facilities and a $7.5 million pool for assistant coaches and support staff. Schiano himself was offered an 8-year, $32 million deal, according to reports, with $25.7 million guaranteed.

According to Brett McMurphy of Stadium.com, there were questions whether Schiano was fully committed to returning to the school.

“You can’t blame Rutgers for not allocating more money or the Board of Governors for being concerned about his unprecedented request and the financial impact of the contract,” said an unnamed source in the Stadium article. “And you can’t blame Schiano for not wanting to go back to a job he’s already done. Been there, done that.”

With Schiano off the table, Rutgers may turn its attention to University of Buffalo football coach Lance Leipold, Army coach Jeff Monken or promote interim coach Nunzio Campanile to the full-time spot. Another potential candidate, former Tennessee coach Butch Jones, withdrew from consideration for the job two weeks ago.

SHEA IT AIN'T SO

Things started shaky for Michigan this season, but senior quarterback Shea Patterson and the Wolverines appear to be peaking at the right time.

Patterson matched a school record with five touchdown passes in Michigan’s 39-14 win over Indiana on Saturday. In his last two games, Patterson, a transfer from Ole Miss and former five-star recruit from Toledo, Ohio, has posted back-to-back 300-yard passing games, completing 44 of 65 passes for 710 yards with nine TDs to one interception.

“We’re riding him,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters following the Indiana game “His play has just been outstanding. He is really seeing the field well. He’s taking care of the football at all times. Really playing good, disciplined football. Doing a great job of going through his reads.”

Patterson could etch his name in Michigan lore if he could lead the Wolverines to an upset over rival Ohio State on his Senior Day on Saturday. The win wouldn’t send Michigan to the Big Ten title game, but it would likely secure a Rose Bowl berth and end Harbaugh’s 0-4 mark against the Buckeyes.

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