Gophers’ bowl fate hinges on Wildcats

Dan Miller

Ken Hoffman and the Motor City Bowl officials will be watching Northwestern’s game Saturday in Hawaii very carefully.

Hoffman, the executive director of the Motor City Bowl, said that if Northwestern wins, his bowl will invite Minnesota to play Dec. 27 in Detroit.

“Everything depends on what happens in Hawaii,” Hoffman said.

Should the scenario play out that the Warriors (5-5) upset the Wildcats (6-5, 5-3 Big Ten), the Gophers would move up into the sixth spot in the conference and likely play in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., with the Wildcats not qualifying as bowl-eligible.

Hoffman said that Minnesota (6-5, 3-5) would be an attractive team for his bowl because of its explosive running game.

“Everybody knows that Minnesota has one of the best, if not the best, running games statistically in the nation,” he said. “That would be a real attraction.”

The Gophers rank sixth nationally with 255.1 rushing yards per game. Minnesota running backs Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III also became the first duo in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards each in consecutive seasons.

But with the Gophers losing five of their last six games, Maroney put the team’s rushing record in perspective following Minnesota’s season-ending 29-27 loss to Iowa on Nov. 13.

“(The record) is important, but it’s not,” he said. “You have to put your team goals ahead of your personal ones. You know it’s a good side to this game, and we can say we gave it our best. We just didn’t finish it.”

If Northwestern loses Saturday and Minnesota goes to Nashville, Hoffman would have to select an at-large team to play in Detroit – something he said would not be ideal for his bowl.

“We would prefer to have a team from the Big Ten,” he said. “That is why we signed a contract with the conference – because anyone who has a winning record in the Big Ten is going to have a pretty good team.”

The Music City Bowl has a back-up contract with the Big East, and Hoffman said that if they didn’t get the Gophers, the bowl would likely sign a team from that conference.

Even if Northwestern wins Saturday, it could be awhile before the Music City Bowl gives the Gophers an invitation, because they will have to wait for the final Bowl Championship Series results and for the rest of the Big Ten bowls to make their selections.

Hoffman said the Gophers’ late-season skid after starting 5-0 puts a blemish on their resume.

“Everyone does look at that, and it’s unfortunate that they lost down the stretch after starting the season so well,” he said. “But if you look at their game against Iowa, there is not much of a difference between the Gophers and the conference champs.”

After the Gophers lost to the co-Big Ten champion Hawkeyes, Minnesota coach Glen Mason said the team would be happy with any bowl game.

“I hope we have an opportunity to play in a postseason bowl game,” Mason said. “Whatever bowl is fine.”

And now that they know they will play in a bowl, it’s all in Northwestern’s hands.