Three local thoughts from a weekend in sports in which the Big Ten Championship was clearly the best game that happened:

DON’T DENY IT: After all the grumbling and laughing and wagging of fingers is done, there’s a sneaking suspicion a lot of you will be left with this unironic choice: watching the 5-7 Gophers football team play in the Quick Lane Bowl.

It’s not so much that you’re dying to see one more game in this forgettable season or that Central Michigan is a hot opponent. With this bowl game, as is the case with so many of these lower-tier bowls, timing is everything.

This one is on at 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 28 — first day back at work after a luxurious holiday weekend. It’s the perfect opportunity for a happy hour, and it will be the best (by default) piece of live sports programming on at that time.

Or you’ll get home from work and flip on the last quarter before turning your attention to “Monday Night Football,” the Wild or the Wolves.

You can deny it, or you can just go ahead and make plans now. Your choice.

BURDEN OF PROOF: Carolina, by virtue of entering this weekend undefeated, is the team to beat in the NFC. The Vikings don’t play Carolina in the regular season, so toss out the Panthers.

The three biggest conference contenders outside of Carolina are as follows, in no particular order: Seattle, Green Bay and Arizona.

Two weeks ago, with a chance to take firm control of the NFC North, the Vikings lost at home to the Packers, 30-13. The game had its ebbs and flows, but overall: Green Bay was the better team and made far more plays, particularly on offense.

On Sunday, with a chance to remain in first place by themselves in the NFC North in what looked to be a tossup game against Seattle, the Vikings had their doors blown off at home. The final score was 38-7, which pretty well tells the story but somehow even feels less lopsided than the game action.

Their next opportunity, as luck would have it, is Thursday when they face the Cardinals in Arizona. Now more than ever, the Vikings need to prove it in a “prove it” game. They can still make the playoffs without beating a great team, but they won’t go far without it.

 

BACK TO BASICS: The Wild lost eight of its first nine games this season in which it scored two or fewer goals. Maybe that’s not terribly surprising, but it does speak to the uncharacteristic manner in which the Wild had been playing through the first quarter of the season.

Mike Yeo’s forceful message to his team a week ago was that its effort and focus weren’t good enough. Since then, Minnesota has won three consecutive games: 1-0, 2-1 and a 3-0 victory that included a late empty net goal.

To get on a hot streak, a team needs to be able to win 4-3 as well as 2-1. Those low-scoring wins have been coming lately, and they weren’t earlier in the season.

 

MICHAEL RAND