Regardless of perception, Minnesota glad to be bowl eligible

The Big Ten, though often skewered nationally, is well represented in bowl games.

by Austin Cumblad

It was an interesting scene in the press room Saturday after MinnesotaâÄôs underwhelming 16-13 victory over Football Championship Series opponent South Dakota State . The question of the afternoon implied that the win was disappointing âÄî a moral defeat, if you will. After all, arenâÄôt FCS teams supposed to be a breeze? But in so many words, everyone said the same thing: âÄúA win is a win.âÄù The Gophers arenâÄôt concerned about style points. No team in the Big Ten really is; they donâÄôt need to be. For example, look at the first week of the 2009 season. No. 10 Ohio State locked up a share of the conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl on Saturday with an overtime win over Iowa; but in week one, the Buckeyes barely escaped with a four-point win against Navy. The 13th-ranked Hawkeyes hosted Northern Iowa (an FCS team that South Dakota State beat) and had to block two last-second field goals to win by one. Entering its season finale against the Gophers , Iowa will probably lock up an at-large BCS berth with a win. Of course, this is why the rest of the country complains about the Big Ten. The face of the conference, Ohio State, which has been to a BCS game six of the last seven years , has head coach Jim Tressel who is so conservative that TresselBall is a widely recognized noun for playing not to lose instead of playing to win. In the closing minutes of regulation in their showdown on Saturday, both the Buckeyes and Iowa were so risk averse that, after the Hawkeyes brought the score level, the teams netted 6 yards of offense in the final 2:37. But the Big Ten never has been, and probably never will be, about style points. Maddening as it may be, theyâÄôre unapologetic about it âÄî Minnesota included. On Saturday, the Gophers repeated time and again that they were happy to be bowl eligible, even if the clinching game was an uninspiring one against an FCS team. After all, they lost to North Dakota State âÄî an FCS foe âÄî just two years ago on their way to a one-win season . âÄúBeing a part of a team that was 1-11, you realize that victories are something special, regardless of who youâÄôre playing and what the score is,âÄù quarterback Adam Weber, who was a redshirt freshman for that 2007 debacle , said. âÄúAt the end of the game, if you come away victorious, you have something to celebrate, especially when it makes you bowl eligible.âÄù Minnesota and Michigan State both became bowl eligible Saturday. Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin and Northwestern already were, and Michigan has to beat the Buckeyes next week to make a bowl. Purdue, Illinois and Indiana lost and will not go to a bowl. ThatâÄôs seven teams already eligible, matching up perfectly with seven Big Ten bowl tie-ins. But chances are, either the Hawkeyes or the Nittany Lions will garner an at-large BCS bid, bumping all other teams up a notch on the pecking order. Whether the Big Ten deserves two BCS teams has been a matter of contentious debate before and probably will be again as the selection process begins. A conference team will have to win a BCS game before some of the dissent dies down. The Big Ten has sent two teams to BCS bowls for four straight seasons, but the last time the conference won was 2006, when Ohio State and Penn State won the Fiesta Bowl and the Orange Bowl, respectively. Two BCS teams certainly helps the GophersâÄô own bowl bid, but does head coach Tim Brewster think the Big Ten deserves it? âÄúThatâÄôs hard for me to say,âÄù Brewster said Sunday. âÄúI certainly believe weâÄôve got good teams in the Big Ten. Ohio State is certainly deserving, thereâÄôs not a doubt in my mind about that.âÄù Ohio State will be in Pasadena on Jan. 1 for the Rose Bowl. Where Minnesota will be a few days before has yet to be determined. Brewster said heâÄôs not all that concerned; itâÄôs making a bowl game thatâÄôs important. ItâÄôs a step, he said, towards Pasadena, which is where heâÄôs said he wants to take his team from day one. âÄúWeâÄôve proven to be a bowl team, which is significant,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúWhat I want to prove is that weâÄôve got the ability to be a championship caliber team. IâÄôm not downplaying at all the aspect of going to a bowl game because itâÄôs a step along the way towards building a championship program.âÄù