The Gophers landed a spot on a Friday, in prime time, in an NFL stadium, against a foe from the high-octane Big 12.
As if their 44-28 rout back in October wasn't enough, the Gophers whipped Purdue again on Sunday, and their prize is a Price-Is-Right-style jackpot: a paycheck bigger by $500,000, an extra $300,000 in travel money, and perhaps a million more people watching.
Oh, and a rematch, six years later, of one of the most devastating losses in Minnesota history.
Thanks partly to a phone and e-mail campaign on the Gophers' behalf, Minnesota was chosen, instead of the Boilermakers, for the Meineke Car Care Bowl, a prime-time, national-TV showcase that on Dec. 28 will pit the Gophers against Texas Tech in Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans and one-time host to a Super Bowl.
"It's the bowl we really wanted and certainly lobbied for the most," Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague said. "I'm proud of what we did there because they said it made a difference. We had a lot of fans send letters to people on the committee."
It's doubtful many of them requested the Red Raiders as the Big 12's representative, though, considering what happened the last time they met. Texas Tech, trailing 38-7 midway through the third quarter of the 2006 Insight Bowl, mounted the largest comeback in bowl history, finally winning 44-41 in overtime, a result that cost coach Glen Mason his job the next day.
The current Gophers coach, though, isn't thinking about the past. Jerry Kill is already focused on what the Meineke Car Care Bowl can do for Minnesota's future.
"No. 1, we recruit the state of Texas," said Kill, who led the Gophers to a 6-6 record this year that ended their three-year bowl drought. "No. 2, it's a high-profile bowl. ... There's no question that helps you in recruiting. Just the visibility -- the exposure the media gives you helps your program."
That's because the game is an evening kickoff on a Friday, when the ESPN broadcast will be the lone football option on TV. Last year, the game in that exclusive Friday night slot, the Insight Bowl, was the sixth-most-watched non-BCS bowl. That could bring two to three times the number of viewers who will watch the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Gophers' other possibility.
Viewers this year will see a contrast of styles, between the Red Raiders' spread-out passing attack and the Gophers' emphasis on defense. Texas Tech owns the No. 2 passing offense in major college football, averaging 361.9 yards through the air each game; Minnesota's passing defense, which allows 178.5 yards per game, is ranked No. 11.
The Gophers have scored 37 total points in their past three losses; the Red Raiders average 37.8 points every game.
"I've never seen a conference like the Big 12. You've got to score 40, 50 points to win a game," said Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, who led the Raiders to a 7-5 record this season. "It's unbelievable the offensive talent in this league."
The Gophers will start preparing for some of that offensive talent this week. First, they want to savor the moment, particularly players like cornerback Troy Stoudermire and linebacker Keanon Cooper, Gophers seniors who get to end their career in their home state.
"I'm very happy. This is special to me," said Cooper, a Dallas native and one of 14 Texans on Minnesota's roster. "My family has never been able to see me play in person. For them to have that opportunity is big."
The invitation comes with a requirement that the Gophers buy 12,000 tickets, priced between $60 and $75 each, but also will pay them $1.7 million, far greater than the $1.2 million Purdue will get from the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Big Ten, which helps cover costs of unsold tickets (and splits bowl proceeds among all members) allots $1.5 million in travel expenses, allowing, among other things, the Gophers band to fly instead of bus to the game.
But it's ticket-buying fans who might have helped convince Meineke board members which 6-6 Big Ten team to take. "We felt so much energy coming from Minnesota this week. A lot of alumni were lobbying to come down to Houston," said Heather Houston, the bowl's executive director.
"It felt like there is tons of support for the team."
|Fla Gulf Coast||62|
|Sam Houston St||67||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||0|
|Stephen F Austin||92|
|Cal State Fullerton||62||FINAL|
|Long Beach State||69|
|(18) Texas A&M||57|
|East Tenn St||73|
|Sam Houston St||73||FINAL|
|Stephen F Austin||56|
|Miss Valley St||0|
|(15) North Carolina||84|
|Cal State Fullerton||66|
|Long Beach St||60||FINAL|
|UC Santa Barbara||36|