Yes, I'm going to link to a Charley Walters story, but only because it gets this conversation started: officials from the Outback Bowl will be at TCF Bank Stadium this Saturday for the Minnesota vs Penn State tilt. With the Nittany Lions ineligible for bowl games, that means the Outback folks are there solely to check out the Maroon and Gold. While Minnesota getting to the Outback remains highly unlikely, it shows the Gophers are on the big bowls' radar for the first time in a long time.
First a refresher on the B1G's bowl order, and the rules: Other than the Rose Bowl, bowls DO NOT take teams based on record- it's CHOICE. A bowl could take a six win team over a ten win team if it so chose.
Rose Bowl Presented by VIZIO, Pasadena, CA Jan. 1,: B1G Champ
Capital One Bowl, Orlando, FL, Jan. 1: 2nd choice
Outback Bowl, Tampa, FL, Jan. 1: 3rd choice
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Tempe, AZ, Dec. 28: 4th
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, FL, Jan. 1: 5th
Texas Bowl, Houston, TX, Dec. 27: 6th
Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas, TX, Jan. 1: 7th
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Beautiful Detroit, MI, Dec. 26: 8th
I hate that the top four choices aren't all New Years Day games. No offense to the BWW bowl, but playing on NYD should be a privilege, and while I know that bowl is supposed to have more prestige because they get to choose earlier, I'd still much, much rather see Minnesota in the Gator this year than the BWW bowl. It's also ridiculous that a bowl nobody really cares about, the Heart of Dallas Bowl, gets to be on New Year's Day as well. That should be a late December game because, again, playing on NYD should be an honor and a privilege.
Anyway, there are many factors at play, not the least of which is how well a fan base is perceived to travel. While that won't help Minnesota because they haven't been to a New Year's Day or significant bowl game since the 1962 Rose Bowl and therefore haven't given their fans much reason to want to travel in droves, there's other things working in the Gophs' favor. Jerry Kill is arguably THE best story in college football this season, and if Minnesota can get at least one more win to get to eight and guarantee at least a .500 record in the B1G, that's going to really, really help their chances. Putting butts in the seats matters for the bowls, but it also matters to sell the story for the week and on game day, and Kill's story this season could really do that.
Another factor is what's happening in and around a program. Even if Minnesota comes in with a two game losing streak to Wisconsin and Sparty, this program is still on the way up and there's a lot of positive feelings in and around the program. For some of the other traditional- or more traditional- powers in the conference, that's definitely may not be the case.
While a lot could happen this month, it's looking very, very unlikely that the B1G will have eight bowl eligible teams. As mentioned Penn State is ineligible already while Purdue is the only team already mathematically eliminated with seven losses. Indiana (3-5), Illinois (3-5), and Northwestern (4-5) at the moment look very doubtful.The Hoosiers have winnable games at home vs Illinois and Purdue but to get to six would need to beat Ohio State or Wisconsin on the road. Not happening. The Illini also need three and considering they haven't won a B1G game since 2011, it's unlikely they win three of their last four. The Wildcats only need two but only have three games remaining, and two of them aren't easy; at least they're at home vs Michigan this week and Michigan State next weekend. They close at Illinois, so if NU is finally getting healthy, they may have a chance to upset Michigan then beat Illinois.
Even if any of those three schools get bowl eligible, none of them will be picked over Minnesota. I can't guarantee you much except that. The other six? Well that's a different story. The U will be greatly helped if the B1G can get two teams in the BCS, and while Ohio State is the only team currently ranked in the top 15 of the BCS Standings, it's still looking pretty likely two teams will get in as long as Wisconsin and/or Michigan State take care of business, which seems likely.
1. Ohio State (9-0)- @ Illinois, Indiana, @ Michigan: Because they hold the tie-breaker with Wisconsin, the Buckeyes would need to lose two of their last three to NOT play in the B1G championship game. I think we can all agree that ain't happenin'. If OSU gets to said conference title game undefeated, they are pretty much guaranteed a BCS bowl berth thanks to their fan base, Urban Meyer, and being one of those "move the needle" schools. As a Gopher fan, you don't have to worry about cheering for Ohio State because you won't have to because it won't matter. They're going to a BCS game.
2. Wisconsin (6-2)- BYU, Indiana, @ Minnesota, Penn State: For the BADgers to get to a BCS game they need to win out, and hope OSU wins the B1G title game. It is my belief that IF Sconnie loses another regular season again and OSU wins the conference, then the B1G will not get two BCS teams. However, a Minnesota win over Bucky would help their chances of a better bowl MUCH more than anything else they can do, even if it means only one B1G team goes to the BCS. As a Gopher fan it's very easy, hope Bucky wins their other three games and Minnesota takes back The Axe on Nov 23rd.
3. Michigan State (8-1)- @ Nebraska, @ Northwestern, Minnesota: Sparty is the second best team in the Big Ten but their chance of getting to the BCS is less than Wisconsin's. I fully expected them to win their remaining three games, and heck, maybe that defense IS good enough to beat Ohio State. But if it's not, and they lose the B1G title game, they'll be 11-2 and still on the fringes of the top 16-20, while Wisconsin is more likely to win out. If the Gophers can pull an upset on Sconnie, then that helps Michigan State's chances, but while Mark Dantonio has a good program going here, they're not a "prestige" program that moves the needle at all nationally, and their fan base doesn't get the same perception of traveling well that some others in the conference get. If Minnesota wants to get picked ahead of MSU, obviously beating them is the best way. Otherwise, it's going to be beating Penn State and Bucky and hoping Sparty loses somewhere else.
4. Michigan (6-2)- Nebraska, @ Northwestern, @ Iowa, Ohio State: As of right now, I think Michigan is better than Nebraska, but we'll know more after Saturday. The Wolverines are a better choice than Minnesota for a bowl game because, well, it's Michigan. The only way the Gophers could jump them is if Michigan tanks and things get negative in Ann Arbor. I don't know about you, but I'd LOVE to see that happen, and considering their remaining schedule (especially if Northwestern gets healthy), it's a possibility.
5. Nebraska (6-2)- @ Michigan, Michigan State, @ Penn State, Iowa: Hey remember when the Gophers beat Nebraska? That was fun, and that definitely helps Minnesota's bowl chances. However, we need the Huskers to lose some more games because bowls won't just take Minnesota over Nebraska because they beat them head to head. The Huskers are still the Huskers and are a major national brand with a rabid fan base, so IF they finish the season strong, they almost definitely get picked ahead of the Gophers unless Minnesota wins out. Still, the dumpster fire potential in Lincoln is high, as the fan base has their torches lit and pitchforks sharpened, ready to run Bo Pelllllini out of town. Bo loses four games at Nebraska every season (it's science), and judging by their schedule, splitting their final four games is certainly possible. An 8-4 record may or may not be "GET RID OF BO!?!?" worthy, but if there's "We're Firing Our Coach" stank around Big Red, that only helps Minnesota.
6. Iowa (5-4)- @ Purdue, Michigan, @ Nebraska: First off, f*** Iowa. #TeamMeteor didn't show last week as we'd hoped, so that god-forsaken team from that god-forsaken state remains for another week. As amazingly awesomeballs as it would be to see Purdue shock Iowa, it's not going to happen, so the Hawkeyes will be bowl eligible, but it's doubtful they win the other two. Iowa becomes a factor in trumping Minnesota if the Gophers don't win another game and/or they upset Michigan or Nebraska. Considering how well they played Wisconsin that's unfortunately not out of the realm of possibility. If Minnesota can get to eight and Iowa stays at six, I don't see any way a bowl chooses Iowa over the Gophers, but the hated Hawkeyes remain far more of a factor than I would like. For fans of The U simply do as you always do- cheer- hard- against Iowa.