Minnesota’s bowl game in others’ hands

The Gophers face a possible non-Big Ten bowl if things play out as they could.

Dan Miller

Attention Minnesota football fans planning on traveling to a bowl game: How does Las Vegas sound? Or maybe California?

The Gophers (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) are facing the distinct possibility they will be last in the Big Ten’s pecking order of bowl-goers and are considering different at-large bowl scenarios.

After Michigan State handed Wisconsin a 49-14 loss Saturday, it is nearly impossible for two Big Ten teams to qualify for Bowl Championship Series games.

Northwestern (5-5, 4-3) and Michigan State (5-5, 4-3) still haven’t become bowl-eligible. But if the Wildcats beat the Illini and the Spartans beat the Lions and they do gain eligibility, the Big Ten would have more teams eligible than it has bowl tie-ins.

But if either Northwestern or Michigan State falter – or both do – the Gophers would be headed Dec. 31 to the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., or Dec. 27 to the Motor City Bowl in Detroit.

But if both become eligible, the Gophers might have to consider at-large bowls other conferences fail to fill.

“Wherever we get to go will be fine with me, as long as we get what we deserve,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said in his usual bowl-game mantra.

If Southern California goes to the national title game and California goes to the Rose Bowl, the Pac-10 would fall short of teams to fill its bowl games with, at best, five eligible teams.

This would leave openings in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 23, Silicon Valley Bowl on Dec. 30 in San Jose, Calif., and the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 30 in San Francisco.

Barely being bowl-eligible themselves with a minimum six wins, the Gophers now face the numerous problems of being a bowl bubble team.

Minnesota has now lost five of its last six games after losing 29-27 to Iowa on Saturday, and it will be tough for the Gophers to hide from bowl officials the fact they’ve won one game in the last month and a half.

It’s also hard to sell the fact that Minnesota has a notoriously meager traveling fan base.

The Gophers couldn’t sell their fans last season – even with nine wins under their belt. Alamo Bowl officials picked an eight-win Spartans team instead, and Minnesota ended up in El Paso, Texas, for the Sun Bowl.

On Saturday, Laurence Maroney – intentionally or unintentionally – turned that around.

“We deserve what we get,” he said.

It will be awhile until the Gophers know exactly what that is, though.

“I don’t know where we are going to go, and I don’t care where we are going to go,” Maroney said. “I know if we do go to a bowl game, we’re going to treat it like any game and play hard.”