I’m going to open with something that should be VERY clear to any Gopher fan. Life is not fair. Bowl selection is part of life. Bowl selection isn’t fair.
So why are so many folks acting like Minnesota got disrespected? Sorry, but no. They got screwed by how things shook out with the other bowl eligible Big Ten teams. I’ll explain, but first, it’s time for a reminder for those who aren’t aware (or who have forgotten).
The old “bowls run the show” system is dead
The bowls don’t pick their Big Ten teams in a free for all anymore. The Big Ten has built a tiered system that helps keep things a little more mixed up. It’s been this way since the College Football Playoff started in 2014.
While most conferences will continue to assign their contract bowls a selection number after all the spots in the College Football Playoff and other BCS-type bowls are filled, the Big Ten will adopt a tiered system for its postseason tie-ins.
Bowls likely will be played in an upper tier, a middle tier and a bottom tier, and the Big Ten will work with bowl officials to place teams in games. The goal: to freshen up the bowl landscape.
The system the Big Ten implemented prioritizes variety in bowl destinations, generally requiring the non-New Years Six bowls affiliated with the conference to feature 5 different Big Ten teams over a 6 year window.* They also work to make sure that non-conference rematches don’t occur in bowl games. And yes, in general, they make sure teams don’t get hopped by schools with inferior seasons. For the purposes of the Big Ten’s criteria, that’s generally meant you don’t get hopped by a team with 2 fewer wins than you. However, head to head wins don’t mean anything. Sorry, life isn’t fair, the Big Ten doesn’t hamstring it’s business partners into worrying about how things played out in the Quadrangle of Hate.
*NOTE: I know this is part of the new bowl contracts the conference has signed since 2014, but I’m unclear how many of the longest tenured top-level B1G bowls have contracts predating this guideline.
This change has been good for the Gophers...
This process has benefited the Gophers in the past. Under the old bowl pecking order, there’s no way (let me say again, NO WAY) the Gophers play Missouri in the Citrus Bowl as an 8-4 team in 2014 without this process. It kept them from getting hopped by Iowa for the Outback back in 2019. It will benefit the Gophers in the future.
...but not this year
Unfortunately, this is a season where it hurt Minnesota. In the Big Ten this year, the basic breakdown of the bowl eligible teams was as follows:
- Michigan - CFB Playoff bound
- Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State - The best of the rest
- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue - The middle of the pack
- Penn State (7-5) and Maryland (6-6), The remaining teams
The “two more wins” rule meant that no one in the middle tier was going to hop OSU, Iowa, or MSU. Though to be fair, no bowl in their right mind would have selected any of the middle tier over those teams this season anyway. However, that guideline DID NOT protect Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Purdue from Penn State.
Breaking down Minnesota’s bowl “slights”
The Outback Bowl. You might be wondering, why would the Outback Bowl want Penn State anyway? Well, perhaps it’s the fact that Penn State has not been to the Outback Bowl since 2011. Yep. A full decade. Sorry, but bowl’s gonna bowl with that sort of thing. This is where I hear people talk about PSU not “deserving it” over Minnesota and.......well, sorry. I’m not buying that. Why? Because none of the teams with more B1G wins than Penn State in the middle tier deserve the Outback. 8-4 unranked teams don’t have a lot to hang their hats on. Certainly not enough to complain about being jumped by a blue blood who hasn’t been there in a decade.
The Music City Bowl. I can hear the complaints now. “But Purdue was just there in 2018! And Minnesota beat Purdue at Purdue. It’s not fair!” Please stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. The Music City bowl does not care that Minnesota beat Purdue at the beginning of October. They are about butts in the seats. Purdue gave the Music City Bowl it’s 3rd best attended game of the past decade in 2018 due to their proximity to the site. The only two games to draw more fans were Notre Dame/LSU in 2014 (barely more fans) and Nebraska/Tennessee in 2016. It should shock NO ONE that the Music City Bowl picked the driveable Big Ten option to face off against in state SEC opponent Tennessee. Minnesota has proven that Gophers fans will travel. But if you’re the Music City Bowl you’re taking Purdue fans who live within driving distance and haven’t had a bowl to go to in 3 years over the Gophers every time. Will it pay off? I don’t know, but the blazers are predictable.
The Las Vegas Bowl. This one is simple. Wisconsin has never been there. They travel well. I can hear y’all punching up your “but Minnesota sold X tickets to the Outback Bowl in 2019” numbers but I’m sorry, whatever good work Minnesota has done is in recent years. Wisconsin fans have a longer history and haven’t been to this bowl site. And reminder. HEAD TO HEAD DOES NOT MATTER TO A BOWL. The blazers are predictable, so while it sucks, it happens.
The Pinstripe Bowl. This is the ultimately expression of the bad luck Minnesota has this season. West Virginia was the Big 12 representative to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. WVU played Maryland in the non-conference. That means that even though Minnesota should be protected from Maryland hopping them this season, the Big Ten was going to make sure that the Yankee Bowl got Maryland instead of Minnesota. The system that helped the Gophers in 2014 and 2019 screwed them in 2021. Want to avoid it? Don’t lose to Bowling Green and Illinois.
- The bowl selection process isn’t about fairness above all else. If you think it should be, then please prepare to be #madonline forever. Also please do it away from me because you sound silly not being able to acknowledge reality.
- The system the Big Ten has put in place makes things more fair, especially for schools like Minnesota whose history of “traveling for games” is more recent.
- The system still gives flexibility that can mean you get skipped, because this is still about money, TV matchups, and avoiding bad pairings.
- Minnesota has no one to blame but themselves.