Houston bowl game presents opportunity for Gophers’ Texas natives

Dane Mizutani

Keanon Cooper’s family has never seen him play a college football game in person.

Good thing there’s bowl season.

Minnesota has accepted an invitation to play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston against Texas Tech on Dec. 28.

It’s about a three-hour drive from where Cooper grew up on the outskirts of Dallas.

“It’s big … for them to have the opportunity to see me play at least once,” Cooper said.

Minnesota boasts 12 other Texas natives on its roster.

Cooper said it is big to play his final college football game in his home state, but he said it’s even bigger that the team accomplished its goal of reaching a bowl game.

It’s the first bowl appearance for the Gophers since the Insight Bowl three seasons ago, which it lost 14-13 to Iowa State.

Minnesota finished this season with a 6-6 record and became bowl eligible with a Nov. 10 win over Illinois.

The Gophers haven’t played Texas Tech since 2006 in the Insight Bowl. Minnesota held a 31-point third-quarter lead, but the Red Raiders rallied back to a stunning 44-41 overtime win.

Texas Tech’s offense should pose a similar threat this year.

“We’ll be playing a high-powered offense. They’ll be going against our pass defense, which is great,” senior Troy Stoudermire said. “That should be a great matchup for us.”

Minnesota athletics director Norwood Teague said the Gophers lobbied to get into this particular bowl.

Teague said the television slot on ESPN was a central aspect of the Gophers’ desire to play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl instead of the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

“I felt like we were leading and had a good chance at getting in, but there were some people that really went to bat for us,” Teague said.

Minnesota will have 15 bowl practices during its four weeks off.

“We want to save those towards the end,” head coach Jerry Kill said.