Penn State football coach Joe Paterno did his old friend Minnesota football coach Glen Mason a big favor Saturday.
Paterno’s Lions stunned Michigan State in a 37-13 upset in State College, Pa. – just one week after the Spartans demolished the then-unbeaten Badgers – and ensured Mason’s Gophers a spot in a Big Ten bowl game.
With Michigan State unable to become bowl-eligible even with a game remaining at Hawaii, the Gophers will head to either the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., or the Motor City Bowl in Detroit.
If Michigan State would have won the game, Minnesota might have had to rely on being invited to an at-large bowl game or face not being invited to a bowl at all.
Northwestern beat Illinois in overtime to keep its bowl hopes.
If Northwestern beats Hawaii on Saturday, it could go to the conference’s sixth-best bowl in Nashville and send the Gophers to Detroit.
If Northwestern loses, Minnesota should be booked in Nashville, with the Big Ten unable to fill all of its bowl tie-ins.
There had been speculation that the Gophers would go to the Las Vegas Bowl, Silicon Valley Bowl or Emerald Bowl if both Northwestern and Michigan State won out.
Minnesota lost five of its final six games en route to barely qualifying for a bowl game.
The Gophers needed to count a win over Division I-AA Illinois State on Sept. 11 to qualify as bowl-eligible. They can only count a Division I-AA win once every four years.
– Dan Miller contributed to this article.