The NCAA might not have enough six-win teams to fill the 80 spots it needs for 40 bowl games, which means multiple 5-7 teams could go bowling this season.
But the Gophers (4-6) don’t expect to be one of them. They believe they’ll either win out against Illinois and Wisconsin or stay home for the bowl season.
“Our focus right now is six wins,” said Gophers senior associate athletic director Dan O’Brien.
Minnesota looks like a long shot for a 2-0 finish, especially since it hasn’t defeated Wisconsin since 2003.
But O’Brien is making sure the Gophers are prepared just in case they finish 5-7 and still get a bowl invitation. He’s been in touch with Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner, working to gain clarity on all potential scenarios from the NCAA.
No 5-7 team has ever made a bowl game, but it’s possible this year with the expanded list of bowls — up from 39 last year, and way up from 1995, when there were still 18.
That loud snickering sound, of course, comes from the chorus of people who thought the bowls were too watered down decades ago.
There are 128 Football Bowl Division teams, and under this system, 62.5 percent of them will make a bowl.
Hey, participation medals! Almost everybody’s a winner!
So far, 63 teams are bowl-eligible with six wins. That leaves 17 slots.
If College Football Playoff bracketology isn’t your science, and the conference championship races put you to sleep, try playing The Road To The Foster Farms Bowl. It’s actually quite fun.
Heading into the season’s final stretch, there are 17 five-win teams: Illinois, Nebraska, Utah State, Arizona State, Virginia Tech, Auburn, Missouri, Colorado State, Middle Tennessee State, Connecticut, Old Dominion, Buffalo, Akron, South Alabama, West Virginia, Tulsa and Florida International.
The Gophers are one of 12 four-win teams in the running for a bowl, joining Indiana, Texas, Washington, Colorado, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, East Carolina, Texas-El Paso, Rice, San Jose State and Louisiana-Lafayette.
But what if 17 more teams don’t reach the six-win mark? NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124 lays out five contingencies, but none of the contingencies would apply to the Gophers. Two involve teams that have scheduled FCS opponents, one involves teams reclassifying from FCS to FBS, and one involves teams that have a 13-game regular season.
The fifth contingency is for 5-7 teams that achieve a “top-five Academic Progress Rate.” NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford told the Star Tribune this would only apply to the top five APR scores from the most recent (2013-14) reporting year — whether they are already bowl eligible or not.
The Gophers scored 975 and weren’t in the top five, which would only affect Wisconsin (998), Northwestern (992), Duke (992), Michigan (990) and Stanford (987). All five are already bowl eligible.
“If the contingencies do not produce enough bowl-eligible teams, then each respective conference would work with the NCAA to discuss a solution,” Radford said in an e-mail. He added that additional bowl teams would “need special consideration or a waiver, even at 5-7.”
So, yes, there might not be 80 bowl-eligible teams, and the NCAA might have to grant waivers. The Gophers could make a case based on their strength of schedule (six games against ranked teams), but they don’t expect a waiver. They hope they don’t need one.
“We’ve got a two-game season left, and we’re going to concentrate on winning the last two,” coach Tracy Claeys said. “So if it doesn’t work out that way, then we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. But we plan on playing well at home, protecting our home field, and being 6-6.”
• Here’s hoping Connor Cook’s right shoulder injury isn’t a factor Saturday, when Michigan State plays at Ohio State on Saturday. The game lost some luster when Nebraska upset the Spartans two weeks ago, but Michigan State still controls its own destiny. Wins over Ohio State and Penn State would send the Spartans to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.
• Ohio State has been sleep-walking this season, and continued to look lethargic, even with J.T. Barrett back at QB, in last week’s 28-3 win at Illinois.
Michigan State has been wracked with injuries, and the defense is just ordinary now. But the Buckeyes won’t underestimate Mark Dantonio’s squad.
• Wisconsin might not have Corey Clement for next week’s game at Minnesota, but the Badgers expect tight end Austin Traylor back this week. Traylor had three touchdowns in five games before breaking his arm against Iowa. Wisconsin also boasts the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense (12.3 points per game).
• Big Ten West teams hold a 7-6 edge over the Big Ten East in interdivision play this year with one more crossover game to go: Indiana at Purdue.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
1. Ohio State (10-0, 6-0): Defense is taking control. Buckeyes held Minnesota, Illinois to a combined 53 rushing yards.
2. Iowa (10-0, 6-0)
The Hawkeyes can clinch the Big Ten West title with a win at home Saturday against Purdue.
3. Michigan State (9-1, 5-1): The Spartans forced five Maryland turnovers and lead the Big Ten with a plus-13 turnover margin.
4. Michigan (8-2, 5-1): Jim Harbaugh has molded Jake Rudock into a better quarterback than most thought he could be.
5. Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1): After a bye, Corey Clement (sports hernia) is still doubtful for Saturday vs. Northwestern.
6. Northwestern (8-2, 4-2): The Wildcats upset Wisconsin last year but they’re still underdogs heading to Camp Randall.
7. Penn State (7-3, 4-2): The Nittany Lions, tough at home, face Michigan, which is shaky on the road.
8. Nebraska (5-6, 3-4): Rejuvenated Cornhuskers get a late-season bye to get ready for Iowa’s visit on Black Friday.
9. Illinois (5-5, 2-4): The Illini have used the same starting five offensive linemen all season, allowing just 16 sacks.
10. Gophers (4-6, 1-5): Peter Mortell’s 43.9 punting average ranks third in Big Ten. He’s within a yard of the lead.
11. Purdue (2-8, 1-5): Freshman quarterback David Blough passed for 287 yards in a 21-14 loss to Northwestern.
12. Indiana (4-6, 0-6): Jordan Howard leads the Big Ten with 149.9 rushing yards per game, but he missed two games.
13. Rutgers (3-7, 1-6): WR Leonte Carroo returned, and the Scarlet Knights still gained just 259 yards against Nebraska.
14. Maryland (2-8, 0-6): After respectable first year, Rutgers, Maryland have plunged to the bottom of the Big Ten.