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No Big Ten West for Gophers

Minnesota eliminated from race with Iowa’s win over Nebraska

University of Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck watches from the sideline in the fourth quarter as the Gophers lost to Illinois 14-6 on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports

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 tiebreakers and go to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis next week. The first domino didn’t fall.

Minnesota needed Nebraska to beat No. 16 Iowa in Lincoln, Neb., on Friday, but the Cornhuskers squandered 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 on top of their own win over No. 14 Wisconsin in the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe at 3 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Now the Gophers (7-4, 5-3) can keep 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 a tie with Iowa due to their head-to-head victory in late October.


Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said he was working to guard against how this exact situation could create “sad people” around the program on Friday night. He talked to his players about how he wants them to approach it.

“We’re kind of ignoring it, we really are,” Fleck insisted. “The only focus is the Axe. It’s not about the championship or the West, or anything like that.”

The Gophers held the division lead alone to start November before losses to Illinois and Iowa made them reliant on other results breaking their way. “A few weeks ago, we allowed that to be out of our control by how we played in losing a game,” Fleck said. “We had the control, and now we don’t have the control. What we do have control of 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 Axe for the first time at home since 2003. A victory would also be Minnesota’s second in four years, including the 35-17 win in Madison, Wis., in 2018.

“The Axe is what matters,” Fleck continued. “The Axe is the Axe, and that’s what this week is all about.”

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