Gophers gunning for three little pigs

In case Minnesota players weren't sure what they're playing for this week, they had a reminder every time they entered their locker room.

The Gophers have brought home the bacon -- the Floyd of Rosedale trophy -- each of the past two seasons, thanks to upset wins against Iowa at TCF Bank Stadium. For a program that had an empty trophy case for years despite four Big Ten rivalry games, winning Floyd and keeping him has been a rallying cry.

Minnesota aims to claim its third straight little bronze pig Saturday when it visits Iowa.

"It'd be huge," said Minnesota senior tight end John Rabe, the only Iowa native (Iowa Falls) on the Gophers roster. "I don't know the stats on when the last time Minnesota had it for three straight years, but me being a senior, that could be something I could definitely put my legacy on, and our seniors' legacy on, just making sure we have three Floyd of Rosedale wins.

"That'd be huge for our university."

Minnesota's last three-game win streak against Iowa took place from 1998-2000, as the Hawkeyes transitioned between coaches Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz. The Gophers, eying their first 5-0 start since 2004, haven't won in Kinnick Stadium since 1999.

Another Minnesota victory would signal a potential shift for the two programs. Iowa has been the much more successful team in the past decade, while Minnesota has had three coaches since 2006 and plenty of on-field flux. Despite the past two seasons, most Iowa fans thumb their noses at Minnesota and look at the past two losses as fluky. But the Gophers come in at 4-0 behind second-year coach Jerry Kill, a program repair expert, while Iowa is sputtering at 2-2 following a horrible home loss against Central Michigan.

This much is clear: the Floyd series isn't what it used to be, which is good for Minnesota.

"I remember the first time I experienced it, even though I didn't play in the game because I was redshirting," said Gophers defensive end D.L. Wilhite, referring to the 2008 game at the Metrodome. "We got beat 55-0. It was one of the low moments in school history, to be honest with you. But ever since then, it's been really competitive."

The win streak doesn't matter much to Wilhite. He just wants to keep the pig.

"It doesn’t matter if it’s the third straight, 10th straight, or we've lost five straight," he said, "you want to beat Iowa any time you get a chance to, because we hate 'em. And they hate us, too. A game like that is always important."

Rabe grew up an Iowa fan and attended a Hawkeyes-Gophers game at Kinnick Stadium as a middle schooler. He has since cut ties with the Hawkeyes ("I'm over that stage in my life now," he joked), a team that didn't give him much attention during the high school recruiting process or at Ellsworth Community College. Rabe, who ranks second on the Gophers squad in both receptions (8) and touchdown catches (3), committed to play for Kill at Northern Illinois before following him to Minnesota.

The 6-foot-4, 258-pound senior will have at least 20 family members and friends in the stands Saturday, and they won't be wearing black and gold.

"If they are, I won't be talking to them afterward," Rabe said. "I've got them all converted. I've been looking forward to this game since last year. Just really excited to go back to the home state and play at Kinnick, and hopefully keep the pig."

Despite the 4-0 start, the Gophers have their skeptics, including the Vegas oddsmakers, who listed Minnesota as a touchdown underdog at Iowa. The Gophers didn't receive a single vote in this week's AP Poll.

Perhaps minds will change if Minnesota wins in Iowa City.

Kill and his staff spent portions of two-a-days in August educating their players about the history Minnesota's rivalry games and emphasizing their importance.

"It's been important for a long time," Kill said this week. "It's important for our state as well as it is for Iowa. And so I think that it helps us understand who we are and where we need to go."