We know that the Gophers will be going to a bowl game, but we won’t know where coach P.J. Fleck’s team will end up until Sunday, after the College Football Playoff pairings and selection committee bowls are announced. There appear to be three, possibly four, destinations that make sense for Minnesota.
A variable in where the Gophers end up is how many Big Ten teams land in the New Year’s Six bowls – the playoff semifinals (Orange, Cotton) and selection committee bowls (Rose, Sugar, Peach, Fiesta). Most projections have the Big Ten landing only two New Year’s Six teams, with Penn State getting edged out by LSU. Of course, if Northwestern upsets Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Wildcats would go to the Rose Bowl and Michigan and Ohio State would have solid shots to both land in selection committee bowls.
Here is a look at four possible bowls for the Gophers and a sampling of national projections:
Dec. 31, Santa Clara, Calif., vs. Pac-12 team
The Gophers (6-6) landing in Levi’s Stadium – where the CFP championship will be played Jan. 7 – might hinge on the Big Ten getting three teams into the New Year’s Six bowls, thus bumping other conference members up a notch, but Minnesota is under consideration by the Redbox Bowl.
The Gophers’ 37-15 win at Wisconsin impressed Ryan Oppelt, executive director of the Redbox Bowl.
“It’s just a huge victory for them, and we’re really excited that they’re now bowl-eligible, and certainly they’re one of the teams that could be in our mix,’’ said Oppelt, who has three or four teams he’s considering. “… Minnesota, coming off that big victory, makes them very attractive.’’
The Gophers’ 21-14 victory over Fresno State in Week 2 grabbed Oppelt’s attention, too.
“After that big win over Fresno State, that also piqued some interest in the Bay Area,’’ he said. “That win continues to look great, when you look at where Fresno is. We were following [the Gophers] throughout the season, and I was very glad to see they got bowl eligible. It’s great to have multiple choices from the Big Ten.’’
Those multiple choices likely also include Iowa (8-4), Michigan State (7-5) and Wisconsin (7-5). Purdue (6-6) played in Santa Clara last year and isn’t under consideration.
Oppelt also said he’d be watching Saturday’s Cal-Stanford game closely, with the Golden Bears and Cardinal as strong candidates to fill the Pac-12 spot.
Projections for the Redbox Bowl include:
Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: Iowa vs. Stanford
Stewart Mandel, The Athletic: Michigan State vs. Cal
Mitch Sherman, ESPN: Gophers vs. Oregon
Kyle Bonagura, ESPN: Wisconsin vs. Cal
Eric Single, Sports Illustrated: Wisconsin vs. Stanford
Dec. 27, New York (Yankee Stadium), vs. ACC team
The Pinstripe Bowl had John Mosley, its senior manager, scouting both the Gophers and Wisconsin on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, but he declined to comment on what his bowl's plans might be.
An interesting tidbit from last Friday was the Pinstripe Bowl’s Twitter page, which pointed to the Purdue-Indiana matchup as a game to watch that weekend, along with Virginia-Virginia Tech on the ACC side. The Gophers-Wisconsin game wasn’t highlighted. That doesn’t mean the Gophers aren’t in the bowl’s mix, but Purdue has been getting steam in recent projections.
Now that coach Jeff Brohm has turned down an offer from Louisville to stay at Purdue, the Pinstripe Bowl doesn't have to deal with the uncertainty of a coaching search with the Boilermakers.
Projections for the Pinstripe Bowl include:
Palm: Gophers vs. Virginia
Mandel: Purdue vs. Syracuse
Sherman: Purdue vs. Duke
Bonagura: Purdue vs. Pitt
Single: Purdue vs. Pitt
Quick Lane Bowl
Dec. 26, Detroit, vs. ACC team, with Mid-American Conference team as an alternate
Most of the bowls with Big Ten tie-ins have contract clauses that call for five different teams in a six-year period, for example. But the bowl selection procedure on the Big Ten's website says the Quick Lane Bowl “will select a Big Ten bowl-eligible school, subject to conference approval’’ with no mention of limiting a team's visits in a specific period. The Gophers won the 2015 Quick Lane Bowl, 21-14 over Central Michigan, so the fanbase likely wants to travel to a different destination than Detroit for the second time in four years. But 6-6 teams don't have a lot of leverage come bowl selection time. This might be where Minnesota ends up if the Pinstripe picks Purdue, despite the Gophers’ 41-10 rout of the Boilermakers.
The Quick Lane Bowl would be happy to have the Gophers, said Brad Michaels, executive director of the bowl.
"Minnesota is one of the teams we've been tracking all year,'' Michael said. "We were definitely watching the game against Wisconsin, and it was an exciting one to watch. They seem like they're an excited team to become bowl-eligible. ... In beating Wisconsin at Wisconsin the way they did, no one goes in there and wins in that atmosphere like that. And a few weeks ago they had a huge win over Purdue as well. They've been impressive.''
Michaels said that Quick Lane officials have no concern that the Gophers played in the bowl as recently as 2015. He also said his bowl would not trade teams with another bowl, such as the First Responder Bowl in Dallas, to avoid having teams that have appeared recently.
"We would love to have Minnesota,'' Michaels said. "We wouldn't swap or do anything like that given the opportunity to get the Gophers.''
The Quick Lane Bowl also is considering Purdue and Michigan State to fill the Big Ten's spot. Among the teams Michaels is looking at from the ACC are Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Virginia.
The Detroit News, among other outlets, floated the idea of the Gophers and Fleck facing his former team, Western Michigan, in Detroit, but Michaels said the bowl likely will have enough options from the ACC so it wouldn't have to use its secondary agreement with the Mid-American Conference.
Michaels also noted that the Vikings play the Detroit Lions on Dec. 23 at Ford Field and that there would be packages for fans to attend both games.
National projections for the Quick Lane Bowl point to the Gophers.
Palm: Purdue vs. Virginia Tech
Mandel: Gophers vs. Pitt
Sherman: Michigan State vs. Boston College
Bonagura: Gophers vs. Duke
Single: Gophers vs. Virginia
Music City Bowl
Dec. 28, Nashville, vs. SEC team
The Big Ten has a shared agreement with the Music City Bowl and Taxslayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.), with each taking three Big Ten teams and three SEC teams during the contract. Should the Music City Bowl opt to take a Big Ten team this year, the Gophers could have an outside shot to land there. Bleacher Report projects Minnesota to this bowl, while The Athletic's Mandel has Wisconsin targeted to Nashville.
The Music City Bowl certainly would be a popular destination for Gophers fans, given Nashville's bustling nightlife. If the Gophers land there, it would be their fourth trip to the Music City Bowl. They beat Arkansas in 2002, beat Alabama in 2004 and lost to Virginia in 2005.