MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The turnaround at Minnesota has passed a significant milestone. The Gophers are going to a bowl game.
This won’t have any bearing on the national championship, but it’s still an important achievement. The Gophers will never be able to crack the conference elite if they don’t become a middle-of-the-pack team first.
“It’s a good thing for our kids. They’ve gone through a lot of transition,” coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday. “I’m very excited for them.”
The Gophers (6-4, 2-4) play at Nebraska on Saturday and host Michigan State to finish their schedule, and an upset in one of those games would give them a chance for eight victories, a feat unaccomplished since a 10-3 record in 2003.
“It was a long route, but we’re finally there. In your senior year it feels great to do that,” said cornerback Michael Carter, one of a handful of players who wept in the locker room after beating Illinois 17-3 last weekend.
Here’s the most remarkable part about the Gophers, though: They became only the fifth Big Ten team to qualify for the 2012 postseason, and it’s mid-November. Good for them, landing an opportunity to play in Arizona or Texas, but it’s another bad sign of the conference’s national standing.
Nebraska (8-2, 5-1), Michigan (7-3, 5-1), Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) and Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2) are the others who’ve secured an extra game; the Badgers have even clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game. That’s because Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) and Penn State (6-4, 4-2) aren’t allowed to participate as punishment for the scandals revealed at their schools over the past two years. Illinois? Already eliminated.
Granted, the Big Ten would have seven qualifiers were it not for the Ohio State and Penn State sanctions, but the last time the league had only five bowl teams was 1998, when there were far fewer postseason contests than the 35 there are now. Big Ten teams filled 10 slots in 2011-12.
Those September struggles the Big Ten endured didn’t just sully that proud reputation. Bowl-game bids were weakened, too.
The league went 2-8 against teams from the Southeastern, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences, plus Notre Dame. Excluding eight victories over FCS foes, two of which were narrow wins by Iowa and Wisconsin over Northern Iowa (4-6), the Big Ten had an unimpressive 26-14 nonconference record.
That included three losses to Mid-American Conference teams. That’s two or three too many for the Big Ten, which finished 9-3 against the MAC.
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