In their latest bowl projections, CBSSports.com, FoxSports.com and SI.com all have the Gophers heading to San Diego on Dec. 27 for the Holiday Bowl.
That wouldn’t be a bad draw at all, pitting Minnesota against a good Pac-12 team — perhaps Stanford, Colorado or Washington State — in a picturesque city. It would be something new for fans. The Gophers haven’t been to a California bowl game since the 1962 Rose Bowl.
The way things are trending, one more victory might get them to San Diego.
At 8-4, the Gophers wouldn’t quite have the look of a typical Big Ten Holiday Bowl team. Wisconsin and Nebraska were both 9-3 when they went the past two years. But this season, the Gophers and others could get pulled up the bowl ladder by the success the conference’s top four teams are having.
This week’s College Football Playoff rankings have Ohio State (No. 2), Michigan (No. 3), Wisconsin (No. 7) and Penn State (No. 8) all ranked in the top eight.
Could this be the year the Big Ten lands two teams in the four-team playoff? It’s possible — especially if Ohio State beats Michigan State and Michigan to finish 11-1, but misses the conference championship game because of its earlier loss to Penn State.
The Big Ten is staring at the real prospect of a Wisconsin/Penn State title game, a battle of two-loss teams. The Gophers would love to squash the Badgers’ national title hopes next week in Madison, but Penn State finishes with Rutgers and Michigan State, which are a combined 1-13 in conference play.
Last Saturday, when five of the top nine teams suffered upsets, it was another reminder how quickly the whole picture can change in November. Penn State almost lost, too. The Nittany Lions took advantage of five Indiana turnovers and rallied from a 10-point deficit to win on the road.
This week, that plucky Indiana squad travels to Michigan, where it will be facing a Wolverines team with a sudden quarterback issue. Wilton Speight has a left shoulder injury, and the Detroit Free Press reported it’s a broken collarbone, which will sideline him at least through next week’s Ohio State game in Columbus.
If Michigan overcomes Speight’s injury and beats both Indiana and Ohio State, the Wolverines would win the Big Ten East.
For now, SI.com and FoxSports.com have Ohio State and Wisconsin in the playoff, with Penn State and Michigan landing in either the Orange or Rose Bowls, both part of the New Year’s Six.
CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm has one Big Ten team in the playoff (Ohio State) but sends three others to New Year’s Six bowls — Orange (Michigan), Cotton (Penn State), and Rose (Wisconsin).
All three projections send Nebraska to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and Iowa to the Music City Bowl in Nashville, with the Gophers in San Diego.
Another intriguing option for Minnesota would be the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28, against an ACC team. That’s where ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy has the Gophers projected. Others foresee a Music City Bowl trip for Minnesota, but the Gophers played that bowl in 2002, 2004 and 2005, so the Big Ten might steer them elsewhere for some variety.
If the Gophers lose to Northwestern and Wisconsin, that could mean a trip to the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif., Dec. 28 vs. a Pac-12 opponent. Another possibility is the TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla., Dec. 31).
Bowl selection day is Dec. 4, so stay tuned.
• Michigan redecorated the visiting locker room at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, canvassing the pink walls with maize and blue signage. The Wolverines were three-touchdown favorites but suffered a stunning 14-13 loss. North Dakota State had the last word, tweeting its own picture of the same locker room, undecorated. It said, “NDSU and Michigan both occupied this locker room at Kinnick Stadium this fall. One team walked out with a win.”
• From Jon Solomon, of CBSSports.com: “The Big Ten has four teams in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 at this stage of the season for the first time since 1958. The SEC’s second-highest-ranked team is No. 15 Auburn. … At this point of each season from 2006-14, the SEC had a combined 29 top-10 teams while the Big Ten had 10. Over the past two years, the top-10 scoreboard, when there’s three weeks left, reads Big Ten 7, SEC 3.”
• San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey leads the nation with 1,779 rushing yards and ranks fourth on the NCAA career leaderboard with 6,051 yards, with up to four games yet to play. The official NCAA rushing record is Ron Dayne’s 6,397, followed by Ricky Williams (6,279) and Tony Dorsett (6,082). But the NCAA didn’t begin including bowl stats in career records until 2002. Add those Wisconsin bowl games, and Dayne’s total was 7,125.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
1. Ohio State (9-1, 6-1): J.T. Barrett broke former Purdue QB Drew Brees’ career Big Ten record for total TDs with 98.
2. Michigan (9-1, 6-1): Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. The Wolverines are 1-5 vs. Iowa since 2009.
3. Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2): The Badgers intercepted Illinois QB Jeff George Jr. four times — all in the first half.
4. Penn State (8-2, 6-1): The Trace McSorley-to-Chris Godwin connection has been one of the Big Ten’s best.
5. Nebraska (8-2, 5-2): Indelible image vs. Gophers: Tommy Armstrong Jr., injured post-TD, carried off by teammates.
6. Gophers (7-3, 4-3): U managed only 265 yards of total offense in the 24-17 loss at Nebraska last Saturday.
7. Northwestern (5-5, 4-3): Clayton Thorson has thrown at least three touchdown passes in five games this season.
8. Iowa (6-4, 4-3): C.J. Beathard passed for only 66 yards in the Michigan upset. Akrum Wadley rushed for 115.
9. Indiana (5-5, 3-4): Breakout season for Nick Westbrook, who ranks second in Big Ten receiving yards (793).
10. Maryland (5-5, 2-5): D.J. Durkin’s defense gave up average of 630.3 yards to Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State.
11. Illinois (3-7, 2-5): Illini have been outscored 89-11 in past two road games against Wisconsin and Michigan.
12. Michigan State (3-7, 1-6): Spartans tuned up for Ohio State, ending seven-game skid with 49-0 rout over Rutgers.
13. Purdue (3-7, 1-6): Jumped to a 10-0 lead against Northwestern, then got steamrollered 45-17 in fifth loss in a row.
14. Rutgers (2-8, 0-7): The Scarlet Knights have been shut out three times in Big Ten play.