If you’re looking to follow the Gophers in a bowl game this season, the odds have become long you’ll be able to do so.
To earn a bowl the traditional way — with at least six victories — the Gophers must beat No. 5 Wisconsin on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) is a 17-point underdog to the Badgers (11-0, 8-0), who are thick in the College Football Playoff hunt.
If the Gophers don’t beat the Badgers, they would need all kinds of help to qualify as a 5-7 team — to the point where it takes a lengthy explanation to describe the small amount of hope that would remain.
There are 17 other five-win teams across the country trying to get to six victories and eliminate the nation’s 5-7 teams hoping to get unclaimed bowl spots based on their strong academics. If there are not enough six-win teams to fill all the bowl game positions, the five-win teams with the highest multiyear Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores are selected. This season, however, there likely will be enough six-win teams to fill all games.
Essentially, several bowl-hopeful teams would have to fail this weekend — and more again on Dec. 2 — for a five-win Minnesota team to reach what would be a bowl for the sixth year in a row.
There are 78 bowl spots available this season. Seventy teams already have six victories or more, and four more spots are certain to be claimed this week when four games matching a pair of five-win teams are played (Indiana at Purdue, California at UCLA, Colorado at Utah and Old Dominion at Middle Tennessee).
So that leaves only four bowl spots up for grabs. Battling for those spots with Minnesota are nine five-win teams with at least one game left, and three four-win teams that have two games remaining — though two of those, Florida State and Louisiana-Monroe, play each other.
On Friday, two five-win teams will try to claim a spot one of those spots: Texas Tech (at 6-5 Texas) and Buffalo (vs. 8-3 Ohio).
On Saturday, three five-win teams might have the best chance to get bowl position because they’re playing nine-loss opponents: Louisiana (vs. 1-9 Georgia Southern), Temple (at 2-9 Tulsa) and UNLV (at 2-9 Nevada).
Also on Saturday, four other five-win teams try to stake their claim: Tulane (at 6-5 SMU), Louisiana Tech (vs. 6-4 Texas-San Antonio), Duke (at 7-4 Wake Forest) and Georgia Tech (vs. 10-1 Georgia).
In other words, it would take a lot of balls bouncing in the right direction for the bowl hopes of a five-win Gophers team to survive the weekend. Even then, more games on Dec. 2 could eliminate Minnesota’s slim hopes.
And if somehow these teams fall on their faces and leave the door open for a five-win program, more bad news for what would be those five-win Gophers: Duke (already at five wins) and potentially Vanderbilt (at four wins and playing 4-7 Tennessee) have the APR tiebreaker over Minnesota.
In other words, Gophers, if you want to go bowling, you better beat Wisconsin.