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Former All-America quarterback Sandy Stephens was a star for the last Gophers football team to reach the Rose Bowl -- in 1962.

John Croft, Star Tribune file

Reusse: Another year without a bowl game caps 50 years of U's futility

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Star Tribune
  • December 29, 2011 - 9:26 AM

Wisconsin will be playing in a second consecutive Rose Bowl and its fifth in 19 years Monday. That will also mark the 50th anniversary of Minnesota's second and last appearance in the Rose Bowl.

On Jan. 2, 1962, the Gophers defeated UCLA 21-3 to make up partially for a loss to Washington a year earlier after Minnesota already had been voted as the 1960 national champion.

There are now 35 bowl games, including the five that make up the Bowl Championship Series -- Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange and the BCS title game.

The Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance were forerunners to the BCS starting in 1992. The Rose Bowl, the Big Ten and the Pac-10 joined in 1998, giving the BCS authority over the four major bowls.

The BCS games are the top tier in bowls, obviously. There are four bowls in the $7 million (or higher) neighborhood for a payout that make up the second tier: Chick-fil-A in Atlanta, Cotton in Dallas, Capital One in Orlando and Outback in Tampa.

The Big Ten has a tie-in with the Capital One and the Outback. So, that's it if you want to talk Big Ten and prestigious bowl games: the Rose (and any other BCS game), the Capital One and the Outback.

The Gophers have played in a dozen bowl games since the victory in Pasadena on Jan. 2, 1962. They have been third tier or lower: one in Birmingham, one in Shreveport, La., one in Memphis, one in a nearly empty Dolphins stadium in Miami, two in El Paso, Texas, three in Nashville, and the past three in the Insight Bowl -- the backup game to the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix.

The BCS consists of 67 teams from the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big East (including Notre Dame). That is an increase of one (Utah joining the Pac-12) over the 2010-11 bowl season.

What is the prestige for a BCS program in reaching a bowl game of any level? Consider: For the 2010 season, 46 of the 66 BCS teams played in a bowl game. That's 69.7 percent. For this season, 48 of the 67 BCS teams are in a bowl game. That's 71.6 percent.

Clearly, it's much more difficult for a BCS program to avoid a bowl game than to play in one.

Over the past two seasons, nine BCS teams have failed to reach a bowl game. One of those, Southern Cal, makes the list because of probation. The eight programs that have made the bowl-less list through on-field merit are Ole Miss, Duke, Colorado, Kansas, Oregon State, Washington State, Indiana and the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Throw out Southern Cal and that's 12 percent of the BCS programs that have failed to reach a bowl in the past two seasons.

Earlier in this decade, there was a rule for bowl eligibility that required Division I teams (now FBS) to finish above .500. They also could count a victory over a Division 1-AA team (now FCS) only once every three years.

That was changed with the move to a 12-game schedule in 2006. You are bowl eligible with a .500 record and can count a victory over an FCS team every year.

The relaxation of that FCS rule has not helped the Gophers the past two seasons. They are 0-2 against FCS neighbors from South Dakota and North Dakota State. The Gophers are the only team among the 67 in the BCS to have losses to FCS teams in each of the past two seasons.

Admit it, Gopher zealots: These are magnificent accomplishments when it comes to futility.

The Big Ten put 10 of 12 teams in a bowl game this season and the Gophers aren't one of them. Fifty-eight of the 66 eligible BCS teams will have played in at least one bowl game in the past two seasons and the Gophers aren't one of them. BCS programs have seven losses to FCS teams in the past two seasons and the Gophers stand alone with two of them.

Oh, well. Look at the bright side:

As the Badgers run onto the Rose Bowl turf in front of a raucous mob of 40,000 of their fans again Monday, it will be a mere 50 years to the day that our beloved rodents did the same.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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