Good afternoon on College Football Playoff Championship Day. Looking forward to watching Round Four of Alabama vs. Clemson tonight. Let’s hope we get a game more like the previous two Crimson Tide-Tigers national title thrillers (Alabama's 45-40 win for the 2015 crown, and Clemson's 35-31 triumph for the 2016 title) than last season’s one-sided semifinal (Tide, 24-6).
Tonight’s game marks the end of the college football season, but what an interesting, roller-coaster season it was for the Gophers, especially with a 3-1 finish that featured dominant victories over Purdue (41-10) and Wisconsin (37-15) and was capped by a 34-10 rout of Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl.
That surge provides momentum for 2019, and it’s caught the attention of some in the college football world. The Sporting News announced its Pre-Preseason Top 25, and the Gophers check in at No. 25.
“Row the Boat, indeed,’’ TSN’s Bill Bender writes. “We know the risks of ranking the Gophers, but P.J. Fleck had this team playing at a high level with blowout wins against Purdue and Wisconsin in November before an impressive bowl rout against Georgia Tech. Plus, the Gophers’ schedule is a little easier than the other contenders.’’
Minnesota is one of six Big Ten teams that Bender has in his Top 25. The others are: No. 5 Ohio State, No. 10 Michigan, No. 12 Penn State, No. 22 Wisconsin and No. 24 Northwestern.
Interesting bowl stats
In their victory over Georgia Tech, the Gophers put up some solid stats. Here’s how they ranked in bowl season in a few areas:
* Running back Mohamed Ibrahim rushed 31 times for 224 yards in earning Quick Lane Bowl MVP honors. His rushing total ranked third among bowl performances. Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn led with 243 yards on 13 carries against Baylor, and Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams was second with 236 yards on 19 rushes against North Carolina State. Ibrahim finished ahead of the fourth-best bowl performer, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who had 205 yards on 27 carries against Miami (Fla.).
* The Gophers ranked first in third-down conversions (7-for-10) and tied for first with 38 other teams in Red Zone conversion percentage (100 percent, 5-for-5 with three TDs and two field goals).
* The Gophers tied for sixth in opponent Red Zone conversion percentage (50 percent, 1-for-2) and tied for seventh in sacks allowed (one).
* One category where the Gophers don’t show up in the bowl stats is punting. That’s because they didn’t have to send Jacob Herbers out to punt against Georgia Tech. Minnesota joins Army, which routed Houston 70-14, as the only teams in bowl season that did not need to punt.
Other odds and ends
* Gophers kicker Emmit Carpenter has accepted an invitation to play in the Tropical Bowl, an all-star game that will be played 10 a.m. Sunday at Daytona Beach, Fla. Carpenter, who just completed his senior season, made 53 of 67 career field-goal attempts for a 79.1 conversion rate that ranks first in school history for kickers with 25 attempts or more. His 53 field goals rank third in school history, and his 276 points rank second.
This season, Carpenter was 17-for-23 on field goals and made all 43 of his extra-point attempts. He also earned academic All-Big Ten honors for the third time.
The Tropical Bowl will be streamed on FloFootball.com, a subscription service.
* Gophers senior center Jared Weyler was named to the Associated Press’ All-Bowl team. Weyler helped the Gophers rush for 260 yards and amass 392 yards of offense in the Quick Lane Bowl victory.