P.J. Fleck knows New York well from his assistant coaching days at Rutgers, located about 40 miles away in Piscataway, N.J. The Gophers football coach also is familiar with the Pinstripe Bowl, having coached in the 2011 game at Yankee Stadium with the Scarlet Knights.
So, when Minnesota on Sunday accepted a bid to play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29 at Yankee Stadium, Fleck pointed out the positives of spending the postseason in a not-so-warm location but one with plenty of experiences to offer.
"Some [bowls] just show you, 'Hey, here's the beach. Have a good time. See you in five days,' '' Fleck said. "This is something that's really in-depth, the culture and the excitement and Times Square and being in Manhattan.''
While the Gophers won't be going to a beach or a desert this postseason, Fleck expects that his players will relish the chance to see one of the world's most popular destinations.
"It's really special, and I know they're gonna have a great time,'' he said. "Hopefully they truly realize that.''
By picking the Gophers (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten), the Pinstripe Bowl, which will be a 1 p.m. Central start on ESPN, met its goal of having eight different Big Ten teams in eight years in its game. The Music City Bowl in Nashville also considered the Gophers but chose Iowa to face Kentucky, while the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, Fla., opted for Illinois. Both the Hawkeyes (7-5) and Fighting Illini (8-4) defeated the Gophers this season.
Fleck is familiar with Syracuse coach Dino Babers, who spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as Bowling Green's coach while Fleck was leading Western Michigan. Fleck's Broncos beat the Falcons 26-14 in 2014 but lost 41-27 to them a year later. Both were hired in their current jobs by Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle, who spent one year at Syracuse.
"I've got a ton of respect for Dino, and I know him very well,'' Fleck said. "Two Mark Coyle hires. When you look at it, it's pretty cool. He's a wonderful football coach. He's won everywhere he's been.''
In Syracuse, the Gophers will play a team that's in a bowl for the first time since 2018. The Orange (7-5, 4-4 ACC) got off to a 6-0 start that included a 32-29 victory over Purdue and a 24-9 win over North Carolina State that moved them to No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25. But they lost their next five games before rallying for 26 fourth-quarter points to beat Boston College 32-23 in the regular-season finale.
This is Syracuse's first winning season since it went 10-3 in 2018, in Babers' third year as coach. He is 36-48 in seven years with the Orange after going 18-9 in two seasons at Bowling Green.
Junior quarterback Garrett Shrader has completed 173 of 266 passes for 2,310 yards and 17 touchdowns with six interceptions for the Orange. Sophomore running back Sean Tucker has rushed 206 times for 1,060 yards and 11 TDs, while Garrett has carried for 415 yards and seven TDs. Their top pass-catcher is tight end Oronde Gadsden II, who has 54 receptions for 891 yard and six TDs.
"They've made it even more dangerous to go against, how they've been able to implement a really strong running game,'' Fleck said. "I know [Babers] will have this team prepared. It'll be a great bowl game.''
Minnesota has played Syracuse five times in its history, going 3-2. The last meeting was a 21-17 Orange win in the 2013 Texas Bowl.
"We're very honored, very excited and can't wait,'' Fleck said.