Music City to welcome Gophers

Northwestern’s loss Saturday handed Minnesota a Music City Bowl berth.

Dan Miller

While flying back from Anchorage, Alaska, late Saturday night, a pilot told Minnesota Athletics Director Joel Maturi that Hawaii’s football team had upset Northwestern, 49-41.

Sunday morning, a few hours later, Maturi received a call from Music City Bowl executive director Scott Ramsey, offering Minnesota an invitation to play Dec. 31 in Nashville, Tenn.

Maturi, who said that he hadn’t slept since his flight, told reporters Sunday that he accepted the bowl’s invitation, setting up a matchup between the Gophers (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) and a yet-to-be-determined SEC team.

“None of us knew what would happen,” Maturi said. “We knew we were going to a bowl, because it has been such a crazy year with good teams not getting bowl eligibility. But we think we got a great bowl.”

Music City Bowl officials gave Minnesota the invitation after Hawaii and quarterback Timmy Chang beat Northwestern on Saturday. With the loss, the Wildcats (6-6) failed to gain bowl eligibility.

Had Northwestern beaten Hawaii, it probably would have gone to Nashville, with Minnesota playing in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit.

Maturi said his athletics department will immediately start promoting the trip to Nashville.

Historically, Gophers fans have traveled poorly to bowl games. Only 2,000 fans traveled to the 2002 Music City Bowl.

“We are going to do everything we can to let people know that we are in a good bowl and what’s available in terms of tickets, accommodations and travel packages,” Maturi said.

Minnesota will likely play either Florida or Alabama in Nashville.

“Both those schools have storied histories,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “You’re talking about two teams who are perennial top-10 picks and teams that vie for the national championship year in and year out.”

The Gophers, who finished the season 6-5 after starting 5-0, have landed in probably the best bowl situation they could’ve hoped for.

Michigan State and Northwestern, both with better conference records than Minnesota, would have most likely edged the Gophers if either team would have become bowl-eligible.

“Two weeks ago, this situation was about as optimistic as we could have been,” Maturi said.