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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Minnesota football looks to secure bowl eligibility with win over rivals

The Gophers host the Wisconsin Badgers for the 133rd meeting for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Image by Amaya Battle
PJ Fleck and the Gopher football team on Sept. 30, 2023.

The continuation of Minnesota football’s season will come down to their upcoming game on Saturday against their long-standing rival, the Wisconsin Badgers. If the Gophers win, they will get to sixth win threshold for bowl eligibility.

The series record sits at an even 62-62-8 after 132 games played. Minnesota, the hosts of this weekend’s matchup, has a record of 38-27-2 at home against Wisconsin.

After losing their last three games, the Gophers will look to bounce back and reclaim what once was a promising season. The loss to Northwestern proved to be a negative turning point for the Gophers.

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck spoke to media on Monday morning and was asked about qualifying for a bowl game. Fleck said the team must adopt a “1-0 championship season” mentality, an idea he has expressed the entire season.

“It’s Axe week, and I know Wisconsin feels the same,” Fleck said. “If you win, you get to extend [your time with it]. If you don’t, then it’s up for grabs.”

If the Gophers win against the Badgers, Minnesota will keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the Floyd of Rosedale for an entire year after not having them in possession simultaneously for 30 years.

Gophers receiver Chris Autman-Bell, during a press conference Wednesday afternoon, said the implications after winning the Axe would be significant to him.

“To extend the season, that’s one of the biggest things for me to continue to play with my brothers,” Autman-Bell said. “Winning the Axe and bringing it back for the third straight time along with the pig as well.”

Sticking together through the adversity of the past three games was another point Autman-Bell made heading into his final game at Huntington Bank Stadium as a Gopher.

Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said the game against Wisconsin is more than just another game.

“This game is obviously a huge deal just in itself,” Rossi said. “It gives you that much more value, and it gives you memories. Every time we win one of those rivalry games, and we’ve been fortunate to win some, I’ll remember those when I’m 90 years old.”

The external implications of this game could give veteran players like Tyler Nubin, Brevyn Spann-Ford and Autman-Bell a chance to extend their careers. Additionally, young players would get experience through extra weeks of practice and another chance to play.

For Autman-Bell and other parting seniors who are playing in their last home game at Huntington Bank Stadium, the bowl game is another chance to add to their legacy.

A storyline to watch for in Minnesota’s final regular season game is how offensive coordinator Greg Harbaugh Jr. finishes his first season as the team’s playcaller. Harbaugh’s relationship with head coach Fleck has grown throughout the year, heeding his advice in certain situations.

“He is always giving me advice throughout the game,” Harbaugh said. “I might say, ‘Coach, hey, I’m gonna run the ball in this situation.’ Or he might say, ‘Hey, let’s throw it in this situation.’”

Fleck and Harbaugh have begun to see the game in the same way. Although Fleck may occasionally jump in to make a call, Harbaugh has the freedom to make decisions during crucial situations.

The Gophers will look to extend their 2023 campaign with a win in the 133rd matchup against Wisconsin. Kickoff for Saturday’s match at Huntington Bank Stadium is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

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