When the Gophers football team beat the Badgers in 2018, Minnesota became bowl eligible then and there. Once they got to six wins on the season, it was a lock.
This year’s path is anything but straight forward.
Because of shortened schedules due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA has abandoned the traditional bowl requirement. A dozen bowl games have been canceled. Four programs have declared their season over, and others are hinting they might pass on a bowl invitation, as well.
P.J. Fleck said Monday the Gophers’ focus was on winning back Paul Bunyan’s Axe on Saturday at Wisconsin but touched on how much uncertainty there is for bowls this year. The bowl lineup is expected to come out Sunday, after the College Football Playoff is determined in the morning, so the U’s fate and their willingness to be involved is just around the corner.
“If and when you get to a bowl game, that is going to be done as a group decision; I know that,” Fleck said. “That’s going to be from President (Joan) Gabel. That’s going to be from (athletics director) Mark Coyle. That will be with our players. That will be with our staff. That will be a family decision of whatever comes our way.”
After the Cornhuskers’ 28-21 win over Rutgers on Friday, coach Scott Frost said something similar.
“Some of our guys haven’t seen their families since March or April,” he told reporters after the game. “It’s been a long haul. …I’m going to let the kids decide what they want to do.”
Going into Saturday’s game in Madison, the Gophers’ most-likely berth was the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in Nashville. Minnesota (3-3) was tied to that game in four projections this week, while three others left them out entirely. In those three, Wisconsin (2-3) was forecast for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl or the Music City Bowl. So, there could be a berth on the line Saturday.
The Music City Bowl is a matchup between the Big Ten and SEC, and the Gophers have been projected to play Kentucky or Tennessee.
If the U goes to a bowl, it would be the third in Fleck’s tenure, following the Outback Bowl win over Auburn in 2019 and the Quick Lane Bowl win over Georgia Tech in 2018. They missed a bowl in 2017.