Could Gophers still play Wisconsin? P.J. Fleck says ‘Why not?’

Benjamin St-Juste #25 and Mariano Sori-Marin #55 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers tackle Jonathan Taylor #23 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the second quarter of the game at TCF Bank Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. ((Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images))

The University of Minnesota football team is back at practice and preparing to head to Nebraska to finish its regular season on Saturday.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess. But don’t rule out the Big Ten changing things up so that the Gophers can face Wisconsin in the annual battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. P.J. Fleck made it very clear to reporters on Monday, and he and Mark Coyle have made it very clear to Big Ten officials they’d like to see it happen.

“Wisconsin/Minnesota is one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football. We would love to play that game, and I think Wisconsin would say the exact same thing. So to say there’s not lobbying I would say is inaccurate, both teams really want to play that game,” Fleck said.

The Gophers (2-3) had to cancel their game at Camp Randall Stadium, originally set for Nov. 28, after the program was hit by a COVID-19 outbreak. Minnesota’s game against Northwestern was also canceled.

Wisconsin can relate. After beating Illinois to open the season, the Badgers canceled their next two games due to COVID-19 issues. They’re no longer in contention for the Big Ten West after consecutive losses to Northwestern and Indiana.

When the Big Ten announced a modified eight-game season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it included a Week 9 for crossover games. The division champions would meet for the Big Ten title, and other East and West teams finishing in the same spot in their divisions would play each other.

How about instead of a meaningless game against a team in the East, the Gophers finish the season against their biggest rival? It seems like a logical play if the Big Ten can make it work with other games across the league.

Fleck learned first-hand what it means to beat a rival, after the Gophers beat Wisconsin 37-15 in 2018. The team arrived home to a rally at the football facility.

“That’s why you come to the University of Minnesota, that’s why you go to the University of Wisconsin, to play in the rivalries like that. I hope that all works out, but nobody knows what’s going to happen. Why not?” Fleck said.

If it doesn’t happen, it would be the first time since 1908 that the two teams didn’t play. Welcome to 2020 and trying to play sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.