Gophers in position for January bowl game

Minnesota is still in contention for a spot in the Capital One Bowl.

Jack Satzinger

As senior defensive back Brock Vereen stepped away from the press conference following the University of Minnesota’s 20-7 loss to the University of Wisconsin on Saturday, Capital One Bowl representative Jim Will sprung out of his seat and pulled him aside.

“I just want you to know you’re not mathematically eliminated [from the Capital One Bowl],” Will said to Vereen.

That’s a silver lining for a Gophers team that lost to a rival and saw its chances at the Rose Bowl slip away in the same afternoon.

Minnesota won’t be headed to Pasadena, Calif., in January, but after playing in the coldest game in TCF Bank Stadium history, it still has a chance to escape the frigid weather for a prestigious January bowl game.

The Gophers are one of the final Big Ten teams being considered for the Capital One Bowl.

“[If] Michigan State [is] eligible, [it] would be attractive,” Will said. “Wisconsin’s going to be attractive. And I think [Minnesota] is very attractive.”

Minnesota’s chances

While not yet mathematically eliminated, Minnesota will likely be out of contention for the Capital One Bowl unless Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State all make BCS Bowl games.

The Capital One Bowl is designated for the top Big Ten team that doesn’t go to a BCS Bowl game.

The Gophers won’t get there solely on their record to date, but they’ll be considered if they beat Michigan State this weekend.

If the Gophers (8-3) win, they would be only one loss behind the Spartans (10-1) and could be picked for the Capital One Bowl over Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Will said the selection process favors programs with two losses or fewer but said even with three losses, Minnesota is not out of the equation.

“We can’t take an 8-4 team,” Will said, “but we can take a 9-3 team.”

The Gophers can improve to 9-3 with a win next weekend, making the final game of the season a meaningful one for the first time in a long time.

“There is not a lot of teams … this late in the season who are still playing for something,” Vereen said. “We’re not folding, and now it’s, ‘How good of a bowl game do we want to go to?’”

The selection process

Aside from a team’s overall record, Will said, selection committees also look at the way in which a program’s fan base travels.

“You’d be lying if you didn’t say it’s a factor,” he said.

Gophers fans don’t have a reputation as a rabid fan base, but the football culture seems to be on the uptick this year. TCF Bank Stadium recently had its largest crowd in stadium history when 53,090 fans were announced for the game with Wisconsin.

Minnesota fans also seem to be having a greater presence on the road this season.

“We’ve had good numbers [on the road],” head coach Jerry Kill said. “It comes down to … who travels the most, money — we all know that.”

A program’s bowl history is also a determining factor in the selection process.

Will said that because Minnesota has never been to the Capital One Bowl, it makes the team a more attractive pick.

Nebraska has gone to the Capital One Bowl the past two seasons. Michigan State played in the Capital One Bowl in 2009 and 2011. And Wisconsin was there in 2006 and 2007.

“I talked to a lot of the [Minnesota] fans prior to the game,” Will said. “They were all telling me, ‘We’d love to go to a Jan. 1 bowl.’ … We take that into consideration.”

A few other options

If the Gophers don’t make it to the Capital One Bowl, there are still several other January games out there.

The Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., goes to the Big Ten’s third-place team, and the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., is designated for the fourth- or fifth-place team in the Big Ten.

The Gophers could also go to the Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas, which is meant for the Big Ten’s seventh bowl-eligible program. 

There’s also the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., on Dec. 28, and the Texas Bowl, which Minnesota played in last season.

While bowl game speculation is a hot topic, players said the game against Michigan State this weekend is the main focus.

“We want to go into Michigan State and win,” junior running back David Cobb said. “If that means a better bowl game, that’s good.”