The Gophers are playing in one of the better non-New Year's Day bowls on Tuesday.

They are playing a name opponent, West Virginia, and the bowl's name — the Guaranteed Rate Bowl — isn't as embarrassing as many of the new-age sponsor names that make it sound like the host city lost a bet.

The game will be a just reward for a bunch of college athletes who have invested themselves heavily in creating a profitable football team for the profit of other people, and they should be getting paid cash.

A warm-weather bowl game isn't equal to a paycheck, but it's better than the alternative, which is not playing in a warm-weather bowl game.

For the many veterans on the team, including the 12th-year seniors on the offensive line, this bowl game is what Minnesotans might call a pretty good deal, then. It's a victory lap for a run of teams that made history in 2019 and rallied to make the 2021 season a success.

This game could also be more than that — something much more promising. This game could be the first step to building another big winner in 2022, building another team that could accomplish what the 2019 team did, and become a national story.

Star running back Mo Ibrahim will return in 2022. He might have contended for a Heisman Trophy this year had he been healthy.

Receiver Chris Autman-Bell will return. So will quarterback Tanner Morgan.

That is the veteran basis for a dynamic offense, especially because Gophers coach P.J. Fleck made the wise move to bring back former offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.

Ciarrocca helped Morgan, Ibrahim, Autman-Bell and two NFL-caliber receivers — Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson — produce an Outback Bowl victory and a top-10 ranking in 2019.

The facile explanation for Morgan's two-year slump following that bowl victory was the loss of Bateman and Johnson. There is some truth in that, but the loss of two receivers does not explain worsening throwing mechanics and notable indecision.

As Morgan matured, he should have become better in the pocket, better at making decisions, and accurate enough to make his current receivers better. That didn't happen, not under Ciarrocca's successor, Mike Sanford.

Ciarrocca should be able to coax Morgan back into the role of elevated game manager, if not the rising star he appeared to be in 2019.

The foursome of Ciarrocca, Ibrahim, Morgan and Autman-Bell should make the Gophers formidable in 2022, and we will get a first glimpse of what that could look like, minus Ibrahim, on Tuesday against West Virginia.

Fleck could use a reprise of 2019. He promised big things when he took the Minnesota job, before he started talking about "zero" years and other such nonsense.

He has generally delivered. He is 34-23 overall, 2-0 in bowl games and 21-22 in Big Ten play. He is also 16-9 in the conference over the past three years.

That's a strong résumé for a school that has struggled to consistently compete in the Big Ten.

To live up to his own stated goals, though, Fleck will have to have more Outback Bowl moments, and even an impressive victory in Phoenix won't qualify.

Fleck did the right thing in bringing Ciarrocca back. Next year, he will have plenty of skill-position talent. He will be in his sixth season at Minnesota, meaning his recruiting should be paying off, if his recruits are as good as advertised. So Tuesday's game could be more preview than review.

The Gophers seniors should enjoy their time in Arizona this week. Those returning for next season could use today to hint at something even better on tap for 2022.