The glass-half-empty crowd will point to Sunday's announcement that the Gophers will play in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 28 in Phoenix as a disappointment.
After all, Minnesota was passed over by the Outback, Las Vegas, Music City and Pinstripe bowls for teams that the Gophers (8-4) had a better record than (Penn State, 7-5) or defeated (Wisconsin, Purdue and Maryland). In addition, the game will be played on a Tuesday night at 9:15 p.m. Central Time and against an opponent, West Virginia, with a .500 record.
The glass-half-full theorists — especially those traveling to the game — will point to what Phoenix in late December has going for it: sunny skies, high temperatures that could reach the low 70s, a minuscule chance of snow, nearly 200 golf courses and a vibrant metropolitan area. It might not have the glitz of Las Vegas or the party atmosphere of NashVegas, but it won't have the December weather of the Bronx, either.
Like it or not, that's where the Gophers will be, starting on Christmas night with their arrival in Phoenix. They'll have events and practices before taking on the Mountaineers at Chase Field, the downtown home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Count Gophers coach P.J. Fleck in the glass-half-full contingent.
"We're very honored to be there, very excited to be there,'' Fleck said. "Seventy degrees-plus. Count us in any time. … Might even show up this week and start the training now,'' he added, jokingly.
The Gophers appeared in line to be higher on the bowl pecking order after finishing 6-3 in the Big Ten and in a second-place tie with Wisconsin and Purdue in the West Division, with wins over both the Badgers and Boilermakers. Minnesota went to the Outback Bowl in 2019, and officials in Tampa this time selected Penn State and its national brand. The Las Vegas Bowl opted for Wisconsin. The Music City followed by taking Purdue, which is a five-hour drive away, but which also lost 63-14 to Auburn in that game three years ago. The Pinstripe Bowl took Maryland, at 6-6 the last Big Ten team to gain bowl eligibility.
"Some people can look at it as , 'Well, you're a lower-picked bowl,' but I don't know,'' said Mike Nealy, chief executive of both the Guaranteed Rate Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl. "From the teams to the fans included, would you rather go to Detroit or New York or sunny, warm Phoenix?''
Nealy, a Roseville native, University of Minnesota graduate and former vice president of finance for the Wild, was impressed by the Gophers, especially with how they finished the regular season with a 23-13 victory over archrival Wisconsin.
"This is a resilient, well-coached, positive team,'' Nealy said. "They're on the upswing.''
This will mark the fourth time the Gophers have played in this Arizona-based bowl. When it was known as the Insight Bowl and played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Minnesota lost 44-41 in overtime to Texas Tech in 2006, fell 42-21 to Kansas in 2008 and lost 14-13 to Iowa State in 2009.
Against West Virginia, the Gophers will try to stretch their bowl winning streak to five games. They're back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus and will be playing in their third bowl under Fleck, after wins in the Quick Lane Bowl in 2018 and the Outback Bowl in 2019.
"We've got a very quality opponent. They're very talented and play a very unique defense,'' Fleck said. "I've known Coach [Neal] Brown for a long time, and I know that he's going to have his team ready to play. We've got to have our team ready to play. It's going to be a great matchup in the desert.''
Like Fleck, Brown was upbeat about the prospect of a bowl game in Phoenix and excited for the challenge the Gophers present.
"We're fired up about being there,'' Brown said. "I've got a lot of respect for the Minnesota football program and what Coach Fleck has done there. … If you look at this team, their defense is playing as well as anybody in the country, and their offensive line is special.''