Whether it battles deep in the heart or makes a run for the border, it appears Minnesota football will be traveling to Texas for the holidays.
While the Gophers laid low on their bye week, the remainder of the Big Ten did its part in cleaning up the bowl picture Saturday. Now it seems Minnesota will compete with Michigan State for the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, while the other is dealt the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
“In this point in time, those are the two that are the most likely teams to be on the board when we select,” Alamo Bowl President and CEO Derrick Fox said.
The Gophers and Spartans are fifth and sixth in the conference pecking order.
After Michigan beat Ohio State on Saturday, the Wolverines are fourth and the Buckeyes are fifth in the BCS rankings. Other conferences still have championships and other scheduled games to play, with most scheduled for Dec. 6.
If both teams remain in the BCS top eight, the Big Ten will earn an additional BCS bowl, and the remaining bowls will each have one less team to pick from.
But it also means the Gophers might have to wait until Dec. 7 to learn where they are going for the holidays.
However, the BCS could tell the Big Ten that Michigan and Ohio State will remain in the top eight regardless of what happens between now and Dec. 6. In that case, the Big Ten bowls could begin handing out invitations at any point in the next couple weeks.
“That’s up to the conferences to sort out with the BCS bowls,” Outback Bowl President and CEO Jim McVay said. “We hope that process can move along. But we don’t know that it will, and we don’t know what conversations are taking place because it’s really not our area.”
McVay said the Gophers are still on the Outback Bowl’s radar, although the possibility seems minute that Minnesota would get the conference’s second-best non-BCS bowl.
He mentioned that if Ohio State makes the BCS, the Capital One Bowl would have to choose among the three 9-3 teams – Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota.
Purdue and Iowa both seem to have the edge on the Gophers. Both would bring more fans, Iowa beat Minnesota head-to-head, and Purdue has a better Big Ten record.
Assuming the Capital One and Outback Bowls choose Purdue and Iowa, the Gophers and Michigan State would be left for the Alamo and Sun bowls. Wisconsin is voided from the Alamo Bowl because it has two fewer wins than Minnesota.
While Minnesota has the better overall record (9-3 versus the Spartans’ 8-4), Michigan State beat the Gophers head-to-head in mid-October and would likely bring a better fan following to San Antonio.
“Unfortunately, it’s the history of bowls that they’ve (chosen teams with worse overall records),” Minnesota Athletics Director Joel Maturi said. “It would be bad for the kids, the coaching staff and the fans. I would feel badly for them, but we’ve done all we can to share the positives with potential bowls.”
Both teams have relatively weak nonconference schedules. But the Spartans lost to middle-of-the-pack Louisiana Tech of the WAC and closed out their season on a 1-3 slide.
Fox referred to the Gophers’ high-octane offense – ranked third in the nation in yards and seventh in points – calling it an asset when it comes to bowl game invitations.
In the end, though, a poor fan following could be detrimental to Minnesota’s cause. As college football becomes more corporate, the team isn’t the only thing bowls are inviting to their stadiums.
“(Schedules are) a factor, but I’m not going to say it’s going to weigh more than anything else,” Fox said. “One of the primary concerns we’ll have now is how well these two schools may potentially travel to San Antonio.”