MADISON, Wis. (AP) As far as coach Gary Andersen knows, junior running back Melvin Gordon is coming back to Wisconsin next season.
Gordon's big laugh indicated otherwise.
Saturday is Senior Day for the 14th-ranked Badgers, who also might be sending Gordon off into the NFL sunset. But Gordon won't be introduced with the seniors in the pregame ceremony before the high-stakes game against No. 22 Minnesota, even though it most likely will be his final home game, too.
Really, what is there left to do for the Heisman Trophy candidate?
''Yeah, man you never know. Even if they told me to I could come out, I wouldn't want to. Even if I made a choice if I'm leaving or not, I wouldn't want to make a choice on running out,'' Gordon said Monday. ''I'm not in the senior class so I don't feel that's right.''
So elusive, that Gordon, just like on the field.
''I won't think about that until later,'' Gordon said. ''There's so much we have to focus on.''
When it comes to the not-so-friendly and one-sided rivalry between Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1) and Minnesota (8-3, 5-2), this is the most important game in years. The winner gets the Big Ten West title and a trip to Indianapolis for next week's conference championship game against East winner Ohio State.
Surging Minnesota would like to snap a 10-game skid in the series. The Gophers would surely love to trip up Gordon's run for the Heisman as well.
Gordon reached 2,000 yards this season on his 241st carry in the quickest march to that number in major college history. Gordon's 2,109 yards rushing, which leads the country, is tied for the Big Ten record.
This isn't even taking into account how much Minnesota also would like to take back Paul Bunyan's Axe, the trophy that goes to the Gophers-Badgers winner.
''It's not just Senior Day, not just a rivalry game - it's all of the above,'' Andersen said. ''Two very good football teams that have earned their way into this position. It's a big-time moment - it's what the kids play for.''
This game likely would be chippy regardless of the division title stakes. Last year, after the Badgers took hold of the axe, the Gophers encircled the goal post in front of their student section and refused to let the Badgers get near it. There was some pushing and shoving.
''Last year it was this close to going south,'' said Andersen, holding his thumb and index finger about a half-inch apart.
To help try to avert any postgame tension, Andersen said a new rule would be in place. Instead of the axe being kept during the second half on the sideline of the team that won the prize the previous year, the trophy would be kept out of sight until late in the game, situated at the goal post closest to the locker room for the leading or winning team.
The victors could then go out and ceremoniously ''chop down'' goal posts, take pictures, and do whatever else they wanted with the axe.
Previously, if the axe changed hands, the winning team would reclaim it after walking over to the losing team's sideline.
''The axe in my opinion and running across the sideline is not a good tactic. It's not healthy for college football, and you're asking for trouble,'' Andersen said. ''And ultimately if something happens, it's going to be my responsibility or coach Kill's responsibility if the kids don't handle it well.''
There was some initial confusion after Andersen first disclosed the new postgame policy about the exact whereabouts of the axe. Andersen initially said they would simply be in the locker room of the winning team after the game before a team spokesman clarified the new routine.
Gordon had not yet heard about the change himself early Monday afternoon.
''Whoa what? ... I don't like that,'' Gordon said with a smile. ''From history, they run over, they take the axe. That's kind of what makes the game fun.''