This is the time of year is usually when Gophers football fans hope and plead for a sixth victory in order to become bowl eligible and have their team’s season extend for another few weeks and end up in an exotic destination like Detroit, where Minnesota has played in two of the last four Quick Lane Bowls.
But P.J. Fleck’s team took care of the bowl eligibility issue by winning its first six games and now, at 8-0 and with an interesting and formidable slate of four games ahead, the Gophers are primed for a bowl game that could have an impact of your holiday vacation plans – if you’re the kind of fan who’d pick up and head someplace warm and football notorious.
This is the time of year when the bowl forecasts of national experts can be taken a bit more seriously, and it feels like the right time to offer up their thoughts about where the Gophers could end up.
Let’s start with the premise that Minnesota is still a longshot for the College Football Playoffs. Not only would the Gophers need to win the Big Ten championship, which would likely mean beating Ohio State, but they’d have to hope for a series of events that would take some of the other traditional football mega-powers out of the running.
The website 538.com gives the Gophers a 1 in 10 chance of winning the Big Ten title and slightly better than a 1 in 20 chance of being among the four teams in the College Football Playoff.
Now we can get to a more realistic level, which would be one of the New Year’s Six games that isn’t part of the four-team playoff or another New Year’s game that would feature the Gophers against a really-big-deal opponent.
Let’s take a look:
ESPN’s football bowl experts, Mark Schlabach and Kyle Bonagura have Minnesota playing in prime games. Schlabach has the Gophers facing Texas A&M in the Outback Bowl in Tampa and Bonagura has then going to the Orange Bowl in Miami against Wake Forest.
Sports Illustrated also has the Gophers playing Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl; CBS bowl expert Jerry Palm, USA Today, wacthstadium.com and Athlon Sports, which publishes preseason guides to college and pro sports, all agree with Schlabach and has them meeting Texas A&M in the Outback.
The Banner Society website, which is part of SB Nation, has Minnesota vs. Texas A&M in the Outback Bowl, as well as a breakdown of how it arrives as the various bowl match-ups. Keep in mind this isn’t exactly a meritocracy, with ESPN having a controlling interest in a number of games and other bowls often looking for a local team or regional match-up more than the best teams available.
The Sporting News sends the Gophers to the Outback Bowl but has them playing Mississippi State..
College Football News has Minnesota playing Kentucky in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2, the college football hangover day.
Also, keep in mind that these projections can be fluid. Go back to the beginning of the month, for example, and Bleacher Report had picked Wisconsin for the Rose Bowl and had the Gophers going to New York City to play North Carolina State in the Pinstripe Bowl. (New York City, good. Opponent, OK. Yankee Stadium, not for a Minnesota fan who also has a fondness for baseball).
Another example of bowl logic: The 247 sports site has Minnesota playing Auburn in the Citrus Bowl and explains it this way: “Minnesota played in this game a few years ago against Missouri, but that team wasn't unbeaten through nine weeks with visions of a bigger bowl, either. At this point, the Gophers heading to Orlando is near worst-case scenario for a team that has made tremendous strides under P.J. Fleck. Auburn fans travel well and the Tigers haven't played in this game in more than a decade.”
So here are five takeaways:
Minnesota’s low-end bowl game should be way higher than the seasons of six or seven victories.
Bowl match-ups aren’t always fair once television and geography gets thrown in.
The College Football Playoff (Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl for the semifinals) is a big, big longshot and Minnesota isn’t yet getting enough respect to have experts penciling them in for the Rose Bowl.
Every undefeated team from a Power 5 conference, which includes the Big Ten, has made the College Football Playoff in its five-year history. Of the six one-loss teams that haven't made it from those conferences, four have been from the Big Ten.
Stay away from this stuff until after the Gophers-Penn State game a week from Saturday. Then, depending on what happens, start looking at flight schedules and hotel rates.