MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Last year, Minnesota took a losing record and winter clothes to the postseason.
The Gophers will bring a better vibe to their bowl game this time, making sure to pack the flip-flops, too.
After qualifying for the 2015 Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit at 5-7 on the strength of their graduation rate because there initially weren’t enough eligible NCAA FBS teams to fill all the slots, the Gophers (8-4) were picked for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The game is Dec. 27.
“Beautiful spot,” wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky said. “I think the guys will be pretty amped to go and be able to kind of free roam and hit the beach and enjoy ourselves. I think that the energy will be up and a lot more positive, for sure.”
When they lost the last game on their schedule last year to Wisconsin, the Gophers figured they were done. They had to rally to beat a non-power-conference opponent, Central Michigan, in an indoor stadium in a northern city.
“A lot of guys had checked out, having such a disappointing season, but our ability to come back and win that was big,” Wolitarsky said. “I think that can lead us to have some momentum to win this one too.”
The venue shift from drab to sunny sure helps, a selling point not lost on the university in the form of a Gophers helmet planted in the sand on the front page graphic on the athletic department website.
Facing a daunting Pac-12 foe, Washington State, adds meaning. So does the opportunity to reach nine victories for the first time in 13 years and only the second time since 1905.
“We wanted it to be Pasadena,” Wolitarsky said, referencing the Rose Bowl, “but it didn’t go as we planned, obviously. But we’re very fortunate to be here and get those nine wins.”
This will be the program’s 14th appearance in a bowl game in the last 18 seasons, a stretch during which the lineup of postseason games has swelled considerably. Gophers fans have been presented with opportunities to visit Nashville, Tennessee, and Tempe, Arizona, three times each and El Paso, Texas, and Houston twice. That’s a glaring example of why the Big Ten recently shuffled the allocation process, and Minnesota this year will benefit. The Citrus Bowl two seasons ago on New Year’s Day is the only other bid in the last 15 years that Gophers fans were fired up for.
For Wolitarsky, the senior from Santa Clarita, California, he’ll get to play in his home state in front of more than 100 family members and friends instead of the usual 10 or so at a regular-season game.
“So I’ve got find some tickets,” Wolitarsky said.
For coach Tracy Claeys, the game is confirmation from athletic director Mark Coyle that he’s staying on the job for the foreseeable future.
“Whenever you have a new boss you don’t know how they feel and some of them, they want to bring in their own person,” Claeys said. “So I trust him and respect him an awful lot. He chose to come back here, and that was important to a lot of us. We’d like to have somebody in place who’s not looking for the next job.”
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