It isn’t often talked about around here but for a program of Minnesota’s stature it really should be a goal that they not only make a bowl game but that they strive for an upper tier bowl game. A few years ago the Big Ten tiered their bowl arrangements and worked out agreements where they get more discretion as to which teams go to which bowls. Rather than a straight list of bowl priority, they bucketed bowls into tiers and strive to not send the same team to the same destinations frequently.
Thus the upper and second tier bowl games. The 2014 Gopher squad earned an upper tier bowl game with the Citrus Bowl. This year’s team is on the cusp of another upper tier invite, but the matrix of scenarios is still vast. Let’s take a look at the Big Ten Bowl game landscape.
The obvious elite bowl include the Playoffs, Rose Bowl and other BCS Bowl games. These are likely to be occupied by Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and possibly Wisconsin. Maybe one day we get into this conversation, but it is certainly not going to be this year.
Jan 6 Bowls - B1G likely occupies four of these five
- Playoff (second team possibly)
- Rose Bowl
- Orange Bowl (B1G or SEC)
- Cotton Bowl (possibly)
Upper Tier (not necessarily in any particular order)
- Citrus (Orlando, Fla.) - B1G unless a B1G team is in Orange, then it goes to ACC
- Outback (Tampa, Fla.) - NW, Wis, Iowa were last 3 B1G teams here
- Holiday (San Diego) - Wis, Neb (x3) were last B1G teams here
Second Tier (not necessarily in any particular order)
- Foster Farms (Santa Clara, Calif.) - Neb, Mary, Ill
- Music City (Nashville, Tenn.) - no B1G team since Gophers in 2005
- TaxSlayer (Jacksonville, Fla.) - PSU, Iowa, Neb
- Pinstripe (New York City) - Ind, PSU, Rut
Based on the selection rules for the Orange Bowl, I think it seems likely that one of those top 4 B1G teams is going to be selected for the Orange Bowl which means the Citrus moves to the ACC and only 2 Upper Tier bowls remain.
Nebraska would seem a lock for the Outback Bowl. Citrus is off the table and they have been to the Holiday Bowl an awful lot so the Big Ten would avoid sending Husker Nation to San Diego. The one caveat is if the Gophers beat Wisconsin, sends Nebraska to the B1G Championship game and they slide up to a BCS Bowl somehow. Not sure what happens to PSU/Wisc in this scenario and I’m trying to limit my matrix of possibilities here. Ultimately I think that Nebraska is a very good bet to land in the Outback and if not them, it is possible the Gophers could slide up to Outback but it seems the least likely destination; even with a win over Wisconsin.
Which means it comes down to Iowa and Minnesota fighting for and Upper Tier Bowl and a trip to the Holiday Bowl.
The Gophers currently have a 1 game lead on Iowa in their favor. But Iowa has a well-known traveling fan base as well as a head-to-head win (which may not really mean anything).
I believe that a Gopher win on Saturday would basically lock up the Holiday Bowl for the Gophers. They’d certainly maintain their 1-game lead on Iowa and have secured a huge win to boost their resume. A win and other funny things happening may get us to the Outback Bowl, but
A Gopher loss coupled with an Iowa win, would almost certainly relegate us to a second tier bowl. Music City or Pinstripes seem to be the most commonly bowls to the Gophers in bowl projections.
Where it gets interesting is what happens if both Iowa and Minnesota lose this weekend? Based on record, the Gophers have a 1-game advantage. But that doesn’t exactly mean anything and the Big Ten could negotiate with the bowls and place Iowa in the Holiday where they haven’t played since 1991 and their fan base is more attractive to bowl games than Minnesota’s.
Leading in the standings is a factor and might still be enough for the Gophers to get that San Diego trip, but it is leaving a lot in the hands of the Big Ten and bowl committees. It may also depend on who the opponent would be and all parties trying to engineer interesting matchups, regardless of destination.
Beat the Badgers on Saturday and we assure ourselves of an Upper Tier Bowl game, in addition to bringing home the Axe.