Gophers coach P.J. Fleck painted a grim picture of his players' holidays should the team receive and accept an invite to a bowl game.

"Everything shut down. Can't go anywhere," Fleck said. "And the thought of your son on Christmas morning having a box lunch, sitting in the room because he can't go anywhere. That's Christmas."

While Fleck didn't outright decline a potential bowl invite for his 3-4 team, he did illustrate how the decision goes beyond just wanting to play, which the Gophers do.

The Gophers' 20-17 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday probably took them out of the bowl picture, but with no eligibility requirements during the pandemic, it is possible they still make a low-tier option, such as next Saturday's Guaranteed Rate Bowl, also a potential landing spot for the Badgers.

But that wouldn't come with the perks of sunny Arizona travel for fans or a whole week of fun lead-up activities. It would basically be another away game, at the expense of players being able to spend the holidays with their families after a draining season for the team and their loved ones.

Fleck said the team would make a decision together, though it won't have much time, with bowl invitations delivered Sunday. The Gophers have even more tough calls on the horizon, with seniors likely deciding in the next four to five weeks whether they will return next season for a do-over year.

Not playing in a bowl game gives the Gophers more time to look ahead instead of staying rooted in a tough 2020.

"You're talking maybe 11 days of doing what? Sitting there, doing nothing besides football in a short amount of time with the hours that we're allowed," Fleck said. "That's going to be memorable?"


Last week at Nebraska, the Gophers played and won without 33 players from COVID-19 positive tests and injuries in the first game back from a 49-case outbreak. But several significant players returned for the trip to Camp Randall.

Offensive linemen John Michael Schmitz and Axel Ruschmeyer were back and re-formed the line with Sam Schlueter at left tackle, Ruschmeyer at left guard, Schmitz at center, Conner Olson at right guard and Blaise Andries at right tackle.

Tight ends Ko Kieft and Bryce Witham were also back to aid that group, though Jake Paulson remained out.

Defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway reassumed his spot on the defensive line, though backup lineman MJ Anderson was absent.

The Badgers began the game without numerous offensive starters, including top-two receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor, top-two running backs Jalen Berger and Nakia Watson and left tackle Cole Van Lanen.

Wisconsin also lost quarterback Graham Mertz late in the game after a hard head-to-head collision with Gophers nickel back Justus Harris. Chase Wolf, who entered camp this year as the third-string option, finished the game.

Chris Autman-Bell, the Gophers receiver who began this year as the No. 2 option behind Rashod Bateman but became the top choice after Bateman opted out a second time, took a monster hit to his middle in the first half and then another on the opening kick return of the second half and never returned.