The Bard of Avon, as the story goes, once wrote that politics makes strange bedfellows, or words to that effect. Putting it in college football terms, Billy Shakespeare basically was saying that sooner or later, you'll be rooting for a team you usually would despise.
For Gophers football fans who like to travel to bowl games, the strange bedfellow this week is Penn State. You'll want the Nittany Lions to beat Michigan State on Saturday.
Just why in the name of the Governor's Victory Bell would a Gophers fan want Penn State to win? That answer is simple.
Detroit. As in avoiding spending the day after Christmas there for the Quick Lane Bowl, the last game in the Big Ten's bowl pecking order.
Here's where Penn State comes in. The Nittany Lions are No. 11 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, one spot behind Tennessee, which finishes against Vanderbilt. With Saturday's Ohio State vs. Michigan winner a lock to be in the playoff and the loser in the Rose Bowl, if not the playoff, the Big Ten will have at least two teams in the New Year's Six bowls — the Fiesta and Peach being playoff semifinals, joined by the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton.
If Penn State can move ahead of Tennessee, it could become a third Big Ten team in the New Year's Six. And if the Nittany Lions are selected for the Cotton Bowl, then the remaining Big Ten bowl-eligible teams would move up a spot in the bowl pecking order.
Another way for the Big Ten to get three teams in the New Year's Six would be Ohio State and Michigan both making the playoff and Penn State slotting into the Rose Bowl. That likely would require a loss by TCU and/or USC.
Should Penn State be selected to the Orange Bowl, that would not help the other Big Ten teams, because the Citrus Bowl then would take an ACC team to fill the Big Ten slot.
The Gophers first must help themselves by beating Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison. That would leave them with an 8-4 record and drop the Badgers to 6-6.
Minnesota's bowl destination likely will be one of these four: the Music City in Nashville, the Pinstripe in New York, Duke's Mayo in Charlotte and the Quick Lane in Detroit. The Gophers went to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix last year, so a repeat is unlikely. Here's a look at each:
- Music City (Dec. 31, Nashville): New Year's Eve in NashVegas would be attractive for Gophers fans, and the team likely will need some help to get here. First, the Gophers must beat Wisconsin and then have the Big Ten land three teams in the College Football Playoff. Minnesota's competition for Nashville to face an SEC foe appears to be Illinois.
- Pinstripe (Dec. 29, New York): This game, played in Yankee Stadium, has been host to seven different Big Ten teams since 2014, so one of these years might be the Gophers' turn. A win over Wisconsin would help. Illinois and Purdue also are in the mix to face an ACC opponent.
- Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30, Charlotte): This bowl has a split arrangement with the Big Ten and SEC to face an ACC opponent, and it's the Big Ten's turn this year. Because of proximity, Maryland might be the Gophers' competition to land here. Wisconsin played in Charlotte in 2020, so the Badgers likely won't return.
- Quick Lane (Dec. 26, Detroit): If the Gophers lose to Wisconsin, they might be in line for a third trip to Ford Field since 2015 to face a Mid-American Conference foe. If Minnesota wins, the Badgers might make their first appearance here.
Here are the New Year's Six and Big Ten projections entering Friday:
Fiesta Bowl (playoff): Ohio State vs. TCU
Peach Bowl (playoff): Georgia vs. USC
Rose: Michigan vs. Oregon
Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama
Sugar: LSU vs. Kansas State
Cotton: Tennessee vs. Cincinnati
Other Big Ten bowls
Citrus: Penn State vs. Ole Miss
ReliaQuest: Iowa vs. South Carolina
Music City: Illinois vs. Kentucky
Pinstripe: Purdue vs. Pittsburgh
Duke's Mayo: Gophers vs. Duke
Guaranteed Rate: Wisconsin vs. Baylor
Quick Lane: Maryland vs. Eastern Michigan