Bowl picture cloudy; chance of Sun for U

by Brian Stensaas

Somewhere in the middle of the post-game melee on the field at the Metrodome on Saturday, Iowa’s football headman Kirk Ferentz was being carried off the field by tight end Dallas Clark and linebacker Tony Burrier.

Ferentz – soaked from a courtesy ice water shower on the sidelines – extended a single red rose to the rowdy Iowa contingent, a symbol that his team was likely to make the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile, as Minnesota’s players and coaches exited the field through a tunnel, they carried nothing – except maybe a giant question mark.

With the win, Iowa (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten) clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title. Ohio State (12-0, 7-0) will likely find its way into the national championship game with a win this weekend against Michigan (9-2, 6-1), sending the Hawkeyes to Pasadena.

Minnesota’s postseason road is much foggier, however. The team is bowl eligible and is still mathematically alive in five of the seven Big Ten bowl tie-ins.

The pecking order goes as follows: the Capital One and Outback Bowls played on Jan. 1, the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 28, the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31, the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 and the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 26.

The only way the Gophers would make it into either the Capital One or Outback Bowls would be for them to beat Wisconsin and for Ohio State to beat Michigan.

However, Minnesota must then be selected over Penn State (8-3, 4-3) or the Wolverines – an unlikely twist given both teams have drawn an average of more than 100,000 fans per home game this season. In seven home games, the Gophers have averaged 41,785 fans.

A lot hinges on this weekend when the Gophers (7-4, 3-4) play Wisconsin (6-6, 1-6) at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers are one win away from being bowl eligible and have a history of faithful fan travel.

In addition, a Purdue victory over Indiana makes the Boilermakers eligible for the postseason.

The worst Minnesota can do is lose Saturday, have Purdue win and the Bowl Championship Series decline to take a Big Ten team.

If that happens, the Sun Bowl and Nashville’s Music City Bowl could take the Boilermakers or Badgers over the Gophers. Minnesota would then head to the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, Mich.

If the BCS only takes one Big Ten school, look for the winner of the Wisconsin/Minnesota game to play in the Sun Bowl against either Arizona State (7-5, 4-3) or UCLA (7-3, 4-2) out of the Pac-10.

Two Sun Bowl representatives will be in Madison this weekend and will announce its two teams by Dec. 8. Minnesota played in El Paso in 1999, Wisconsin in 2000.

“Minnesota is tremendous, they have very good people,” Sun Bowl Executive Director Bernie Olivas said. “We’ll be looking for a good match-up for the people here to see, regardless of what happens. It’s always great to show teams what southwestern hospitality is all about.”

The Alamo Bowl, another likely destination for Minnesota, pits teams from the Big Ten and the Big 12. Heading into the final stretch, it would appear Kansas State (9-2, 5-2 Big 12) Texas Tech (8-4, 5-2) and Iowa State (7-5, 4-4) are the likely Big 12 possibilities.

“We are very much interested in Minnesota but (this) weekend will be critical,” Alamo Bowl chairwoman Diane Rath said Saturday. “Of course, we have some connections to Minnesota in San Antonio. The Twin Cities have been in our newspapers a lot.”

Rath was referring to Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs, who calls San Antonio home and owns a large auto dealership in the area. In addition, St. Paul based 3M has two offices in nearby Austin, Texas.

Gopher fans also have a history in traveling to San Antonio. The 1997 men’s basketball Final Four was held in the city, where Minnesota lost to Kentucky in the national semifinal.

Brian Stensaas covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]