Still a plethora of bowl chances

David McCoy

Linebacker Kyle McKenzie can look forward to Thanksgiving.

After its 23-20 win Oct. 8 at Michigan and Saturday’s 41-18 win over Michigan State, the only Michigan native on Minnesota’s football team can eat his turkey with the satisfaction of having beaten both in-state schools.

“It’s real great,” McKenzie said. “This is the first time it’s happened in a while, to beat both Michigans.”

By then, Minnesota’s regular season will be over, and the Gophers will know where they will be going for their fourth straight bowl game as Minnesota concludes its slate at 11 a.m. Saturday at Iowa.

But in order to avoid a third game associated with the state of Michigan, McKenzie and Minnesota’s other seniors will have to do something Saturday they’ve never done before ” beat Iowa.

If Minnesota (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) beats Iowa, something it hasn’t done since winning 27-24 in 2000, the Gophers could finish as high as tied for third in the Big Ten and could theoretically play as high as the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2 in Tampa, Fla.

“For our bowl status, every win counts as a better bowl,” McKenzie said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do. We really need to take this game and win. That probably guarantees a better bowl.”

But lose Saturday, and Minnesota could drop all the way to seventh in the conference and a bid in Detroit’s Motor City Bowl on Dec. 26.

While the Outback Bowl is a possibility in theory, it is highly unlikely. With an 8-3 (5-3 Big Ten) record, a 38-34 win over Minnesota on Oct. 15 and a bye this weekend before its final regular season game at Hawaii on Nov. 25, Wisconsin appears to be the more likely choice.

If Michigan upsets Ohio State this weekend, the Wolverines would be 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten, and would likely leapfrog the Badgers into the Outback Bowl because of their national prominence and ability to draw a crowd.

Coupled with the rule that allows bowls to invite teams with one more loss than better qualified teams, many prognosticators have Michigan slated for Tampa even if it loses this weekend.

Next down the line is the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 28 in San Antonio, which is probably the best Minnesota can do as long as it gets some help with losses for Michigan and Wisconsin in their final games. Even then, the same leapfrog scenario could occur.

If Minnesota wins Saturday at Iowa, the worst it could do ” and also the most likely ” would be the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30 in El Paso, Texas.

But as promising as things are for Minnesota if it wins, things would take a converse swing for the worse if the Gophers lose.

A win for Iowa would move it to 7-4, 5-3 Big Ten. And unless Illinois wins its first Big Ten game of the season Saturday against Northwestern, the Wildcats would also be 7-4, 5-3 Big Ten and would likely push Minnesota down to seventh in the pecking order, sending the Gophers to Detroit.

It’s unlikely the spiraling Spartans will beat Penn State on Saturday, but if so, Michigan State will be the Big Ten’s eighth bowl-eligible team.

It’s also unlikely a Michigan State win would affect Minnesota’s bowl prospects after Minnesota handled Michigan State 41-18, but the 8-4 Spartans did leapfrog the 9-3 Gophers in 2003.

“We haven’t beat Iowa since I’ve been here, so this is a big game,” Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito said. “Last year, we kind of fell short. The year before that, when we went down there, we got beat pretty good. This is a big game for our bowl situation. We’ve really got to beat Iowa.”

One other possibility could put an interesting twist on it all. If Ohio State earns an

at-large bid to one of the four Bowl Championship Series bowls, joining Penn State, the rest of the Big Ten would get bumped up one bowl.

But the Gophers know they can’t look ahead. After all, Iowa has lost only two games at Kinnick Stadium since the start of the 2001 season.

“I haven’t beaten them,” senior defensive end Keith Lipka said. “I’ve been here five years and I haven’t beaten them. We’d probably get a Jan. 2 bowl if we do that.”

Pinnix Player of the Week

Minnesota football’s sophomore running back Amir Pinnix was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Monday.

Pinnix, the Gophers’ third-string running back, set career highs with 32 carries and 206 yards. He also added a touchdown.

Starting running back Laurence Maroney missed the game with an ankle injury and second-string running back Gary Russell was injured in the second quarter, clearing the way for Pinnix’s big game.

Men’s cross country qualifies

Minnesota’s men’s cross country team earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind.

The Gophers finished fourth at Saturday’s regional championships, missing out on the regional’s two automatic bids.

This will be Minnesota’s ninth consecutive NCAA Championships appearance, the fifth-longest current streak in the nation.

Two players of the week

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team had two players named Western Collegiate Hockey Association Players of the Week on Monday.

Junior center Ryan Potulny was the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week. Potulny had two goals and four assists in the Gophers’ weekend sweep of Alaska-Anchorage. He scored the game-tying goal in Saturday’s 4-3 win.

Freshman forward Phil Kessel was named the co-WCHA Rookie of the Week after he scored a goal and tallied six assists against Anchorage.

Minnesota also moved up two spots to No. 12 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll.

Volleyball drops

Minnesota’s volleyball team dropped two spots in the College Sports TV volleyball poll released Monday. They are now ranked 19th.

The Gophers split a pair of weekend home matches, losing to Northwestern in five games Friday and beating No. 15 Wisconsin on Saturday.

Edlefsen wins consolation bracket

Minnesota men’s tennis player Nic Edlefsen won the consolation bracket at the Big Ten Championships on Monday in East Lansing, Mich.

Edlefsen won two matches against Penn State players, beating Adam Slaughter in straight sets in the bracket’s semifinals and Michael James in three sets in the bracket finals.