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With Thanksgiving only three days away, P.J. Fleck during his weekly news conference on Monday spoke about being thankful, and not only when things go your way.

"Some of us only want to be grateful for the good things," the Gophers football coach said. "You've got to be grateful for the hard things that you're going through, somehow, someway, because there's so many teaching lessons coming from it.

"It's just like our season. It's a tough season. It's hard. But there's so many opportunities to learn."

A 5-6 record, as the Gophers have after their 37-3 loss at No. 2 Ohio State, will allow a coach and his team ample opportunities to assess on a macro level what's gone wrong. That, however, will wait for now because the Gophers want to drill down on the details that could help them beat Wisconsin in the regular-season finale Saturday at home.

"We've just got to know as a team that it's on the line right here," Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis said of the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. "This is a really big game for us. We're gonna go play our best football."

What the Gophers' best football actually is has been a moving target this season. Was it their fourth-quarter rally against Nebraska in the opener? Or their 12-10 win at an Iowa team that just won the Big Ten's West Division? Lately, they have not been at their best, collapsing late against Illinois, surrendering 604 yards against Purdue and absorbing a beating at Ohio State.

They'll try to reverse that trend against Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten), which edged Nebraska 24-17 in overtime on Saturday to achieve bowl eligibility. The Gophers are seeking their third consecutive win over the Badgers, which hasn't happened for Minnesota since a four-game run from 1984 to '87.

Should they win, the Gophers would qualify for a bowl for the fifth time in Fleck's seven seasons in Dinkytown. It also would give them ownership of both the Axe and Floyd of Rosedale — the bronze hog statue that goes to the Minnesota-Iowa winner — for a full year for the first time since 1990.

Fleck doesn't have to overhype the game to his team because such rivalry games produce their own edge.

"It's a 1-0 championship season," Fleck said, repeating his mantra for each game. "… One thing I love about this football team is they expect to win every single football game. They're devastated when they don't win. They know why they didn't win. Some things are in our control and are out of our control."

Luke Fickell, Wisconsin's first-year coach, has leaned on his upperclassmen to instill in younger teammates what the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry means to them.

"The guys that have been here so long are the ones who lead us," Fickell said Monday. "… The guys in the locker room who have been in this rivalry are the ones we ask to be in the forefront of it."

Gophers defensive end Danny Striggow, a fourth-year junior, has been part of the past two wins over the Badgers and knows what a third in a row could mean for a team that's struggled down the stretch.

"We've got one week guaranteed left, so let's go make the most of it against a team like Wisconsin, where you've got so much on the line," he said Saturday.

And for Fleck, the hope is the tough times his team have endured will pay off this week and in the future.

"A lot of things that you're grateful for are the hardest things you've been through in your life because they teach you the biggest lessons," he said.