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The Gophers will learn their bowl game fate on Sunday, but when it comes to being practical, their fate seems pretty much sealed -- even if their web site offers a bit of optimism.
Take a look at ESPN.com ... then SI.com ... the CBSsports.com ... and you'll find the same thing: the Gophers are projected to wind up back in Houston in the same bowl they played in last season -- called the Texas Bowl now, and formerly the Meineke Bowl.
What prompted our curiosity earlier in the day was an e-mail from the Gophers asking the same question as was posed on a link to their web site:
The Golden Gophers are eagerly anticipating bowl game selections, which will be announced this Sunday, December 8. We realize the level of commitment a bowl game takes in all aspects including time, travel, financial and planning, particularly surrounding the holiday season. The support from Gopher fans this season in the Twin Cities, in the state of Minnesota and across the nation is indescribable, and it is our hope that support continues to the post-season bowl game. We are asking for your feedback on the potential bowl games you will travel to once the bowl game is selected. This feedback is important and helpful to our cause in terms of our ability to communicate the expectations of Gopher fan support and attendance at the bowl game to the bowl selection committees. The likely potential bowl games for the Gophers, along with dates and locations are provided below. Your feedback is greatly appreciated, Go Gophers!
Which potential Gophers bowl game destination would you be most likely to attend?
Gator Bowl - Jacksonville, Fla. (Wednesday, January 1 / 11 am. Central)
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - Tempe, Ariz. (Saturday, December 28 / 9:15 p.m. Central)
I do not plan to attend the Gopher Bowl game this year
Those two bowl games were the only options. No Texas Bowl in sight. But a spokesman for the U said not to read anything into it. The e-mail and corresponding survey are merely information-gathering tools. In other words, they don't know anything we don't know.
The smart money is that they will be playing Friday, Dec. 27 at 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN in the Texas Bowl. They might even play Texas Tech again, just as they did in losing 34-31 a season ago.
If that seems like an unfair plight considering the Gophers have won two more games this season than a year ago, remember that Ohio State and Penn State, who would have been ahead of Minnesota in the bowl pecking order a year ago, were ineligible for the postseason so the Gophers landed in a better bowl than they normally would have. The school announced 3,163 tickets to last year's bowl game were sold through the university. It will be interesting to see if they can top that mark this year if Houston is, indeed, the destination again.
Game of the weekend: 2:30pm today, ESPN: #19 Wisconsin at #25 Minnesota
Most people already consider this year of Gopher football, broadly speaking, a success. Four Big Ten wins, including one over traditional power Nebraska, have seen to that; even if the Gophers lose their final three games of the year, it has been a positive year for Minnesota.
Today, though, the Gophers have a chance to make 2013 the most memorable year of Gopher football for a generation - to not only get to five conference wins, but to get a truly memorable win. ("Remember the year we beat Wisconsin, the year it was like zero degrees?")
Minnesota has had a handful of five-win conference seasons in the past forty years, but perhaps only 1986, when the Gophers beat Michigan at the Big House, can truly compare - and even that year, Minnesota lost to Pacific in the non-conference schedule. 2003 was marred by the Michigan debacle in the Dome (and the nearly-as-craptacular Michigan State loss at home the following week.) 1999 had the epic upset at Penn State, but also had the frustration of four losses of five points or less. 1990 had a 56-0 loss to Nebraska, and a Pacific-style loss to Utah to open the year.
A win over Wisconsin would give Minnesota those five Big Ten wins, plus the fond memory of beating the Badgers in the below-zero wind chill. The Gophers probably aren't going to the Big Ten championship game, let's be honest; Michigan State can end that hope before things even kick off on the East Bank today. But regardless of what might happen next week against the Spartans, the Gophers can seal 2013 this week as one of the team's best years ever. All they have to do: bring the Axe home.
What else to watch this weekend
11:00am today, ESPN: #13 Michigan State at Northwestern. All of that said, just keep an eye on how things are going in Evanston... you know, just in case.
7:25am Sunday, NBC Sports: Tottenham at Manchester City. It's the best of the weekend English soccer slate, according to Dana Wessel. Can City continue their run of playing well at home? Can Spurs score a goal this season, pretty much ever? Can you find anything else to watch if you happen to be up early tomorrow morning? (Probable answers, in order: Yes. No. No.)
4:00pm Sunday, FSN: Minnesota-Duluth at Minnesota. When the kickoff for the Gophers and Wisconsin was announced for the late afternoon, this game was moved from Saturday night to Sunday, in order to minimize the difficulty of getting football fans out of Stadium Village and hockey fans in. A lot of Gopher hockey fans were mad about that one - Saturday night is hockey night! - but here's the weird thing: Sunday afternoon Gopher hockey games are always raucous. I don't have an explanation for that, but some of the loudest crowds I've ever heard at Mariucci were Sunday afternoon crowds.
7:20pm Sunday, ESPN: Denver at New England. Sunday afternoon is inviolable for a lot of NFL fans. I've talked to at least one person, and I'm sure there are others, who have negotiated a truce of sorts with their families: just let me have from noon to 6:30 on Sunday to watch football, and I'll go anywhere and do anything the rest of the week. It is to those people I speak here: The afternoon games (Indy at Arizona, Dallas at the Giants) are terrible, and you probably don't want to watch the Vikings/Packers game anyway. Move it back. Give up the afternoon so you can take the evening; you'd much rather watch this game instead. You have a day to pull this off. Go.
What to read this weekend
With Thanksgiving coming up, you probably haven't been thinking much about the Twins' starting rotation. I'd like to offer you the chance to correct that, thanks to the TwinsCentric / TwinsDaily crew. Last week, Parker Hageman looked at Ricky Nolasco, one of the guys the Twins are rumored to be high on; this week, John Bonnes did the same for Bronson Arroyo.
The Gophers are already more than two-TD underdogs to Wisconsin, and those who just pick the games for sport aren't sold, either, on their ability to defeat the Badgers on Saturday.
Two 8-2 teams go in ...
The line: Wisconsin (-15)
Bender: Wisconsin 35-23
Bianchi: Wisconsin 30-20
Bradley: Wisconsin 31-20
Carter: Wisconsin 34-20
Cooper: Wisconsin 34-17
Greenstein: Wisconsin 28-20
Griffith: Wisconsin 27-10
Hayes: Wisconsin 33-17
King: Wisconsin 31-24
Matter: Wisconsin 41-24
So six of the 10 at least like the Gophers to cover, but none like them to win and only one likes them to be within a touchdown.
We'll see if Minnesota can earn some more respect on Saturday.
Every week, Jon Marthaler takes us through what to watch on the TV until Monday. Other times, you can find him here. Jon?
Game of the week: 7:30 tonight (BTN) #2 Penn State at #15 Gophers volleyball
I'm not sure Gopher volleyball gets the attention it deserves. Most of the Gopher bandwidth in town is taken up with football, men's basketball, and men's hockey, and what's left traditionally is absorbed by the amazing women's hockey team and the ultra-successful wrestling program. Throw in a few memories of the Lindsay Whalen-Janel McCarville women's hoops team, and there's not a lot left for Gopher volleyball.
Allow me to give you a little background; the Gophers haven't missed the NCAA tournament since 1998, a span in which they've made it to the Sweet Sixteen an astonishing ten times and advanced to the Final Four thrice.
The background on Penn State is even more impressive: nine of the last ten Big Ten titles, and four consecutive NCAA titles from 2007-2010. The Nittany Lions are on top of the Big Ten once again this year, with the Gophers in third place, and no doubt Penn State is expected to roll tonight.
I love cheering for an underdog, don't you?
What else to watch this weekend
2:30 pm today (ABC): #16 Michigan State at Nebraska. Don't pretend that you haven't idly checked the Big Ten West (fine, Legends division) standings over the past couple of weeks and thought to yourself, "Huh, I wonder if MSU loses another one and Nebraska loses another one, then the Gophers beat Wisconsin and the Spartans, then... nah."
1pm Sunday (NBC): United States Grand Prix. Granted, the Formula 1 championship is decided, and the two Red Bull cars were fastest in the practice sessions, so we can probably count on seeing another win out of Sebastien Vettel. Still, the Circuit of the Americas is one of the best tracks in F1, it's got a fun, goofy hill in Turn 1... and if you watch this, you don't have to watch either of the awful noon NFL games.
7pm Sunday (FSN): Winnipeg at Wild. I see no reason that these teams shouldn't don Sioux and Gophers jerseys for this game. It's geographically sound, and we might as well amp this budding Jets-Wild rivalry up a little bit.
7:30pm Sunday (NBC): Kansas City at Denver. Near as I can tell, these are two of the three good teams in the NFL. Instead of watching the third (Seattle) beat up on the Vikings late on Sunday, save your football watching for this game, and see if the Chiefs can beat the Broncos.
What to read this weekend
There have been a few profiles of Ra'shede Hageman this year, all of them interesting, but I encourage you to check out a very worthy one from SB Nation by John Rosengren.
Say what you want about the spectacle of the Tyus Jones signing today -- in tandem with Jahlil Okafor, televised nationally on ESPNU, with hundreds of classmates in a packed Apple Valley gym -- but at least Jones didn't pull the same stunt as Chicago area player Cliff Alexander. In fact, we could never imagine Jones doing something like that.
You can read a few hundred words about how Alexander, a top 5 recruit, handled his business. Or you can watch this quick .gif file from the esteemed SB Nation to see him toying with the hearts of the Illini faithful before picking Kansas.
Seriously? The first time you watch, it might seem kind of funny. But it's really just [redacted] behavior.