If the Gophers defeat Wisconsin on Saturday, will that clinch at least a Rose Bowl berth for Minnesota, with a trip to the College Football Playoff still in the cards?
Basically, yes. Officially, no.
If Minnesota defeats Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State as well in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis, the Gophers will have a strong case to make the four-team national playoff. The CFP semifinal games are Dec. 28 at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
But, strange as it might sound, some Gophers fans are more focused on bringing the team back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1962.
Since the Rose Bowl is not a CFP semifinal site this year, it will feature the traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup. If the Big Ten champion gets selected to the CFP, the Rose Bowl must select another Big Ten team (same for the Pac-12). Rose Bowl guidelines say the bowl “will traditionally select the next-highest CFP-ranked team from that conference.” There is, however, this caveat:
“If the next-highest ranked team is in a ‘cluster’ of teams, meaning there is another team or teams from the same conference ranked within several spots of each other, the Tournament of Roses will select the team from that cluster that will result in the best possible matchup for the Rose Bowl Game,” Rose Bowl chairman Scott Jenkins wrote on the bowl’s website.
But the long drought for Gophers fans plays in their favor.
“In a cluster situation,” the Rose Bowl’s website says, the bowl “will take into account factors, in no particular order, such as: the last time a team played in the Rose Bowl Game, head-to-head results, regular season schedule, overall record, opponents played, past playoff or bowl appearances and performance, and historical matchups.”
Gophers fans have waited 58 seasons for a Pasadena trip. Penn State was there in 2017, Michigan in 2007. Wisconsin has been there five times in the past 20 years, most recently 2013.
If Ohio State beats Michigan on Saturday and the West champion on Dec. 7 and earns a CFP invitation the Rose Bowl berth will come down to the Gophers (currently 10-1), Wisconsin and Penn State (both 9-2).
Wisconsin can state its case Saturday. The Nittany Lions, 28-17 losers to Ohio State last weekend, finish the season with lowly Rutgers and should be 10-2. The Gophers have the inside lane: Win Saturday and they can start booking dinner reservations in Pasadena. Even a loss Saturday wouldn’t eliminate them. They would need the Rose Bowl to select them over the Badgers and Nittany Lions, but the Gophers would have the same number of victories in this scenario and arguably the better story to sell.
Just remember this, as these games play out: If the Big Ten champion goes to the CFP, the choice belongs to the bosses behind the Rose Bowl curtain.
Staff writer Randy Johnson contributed to this report.