The half-empty crowd will point as a disappointment to Sunday’s announcement that the Gophers will be playing the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix on December 28th.
After all, Minnesota was passed over by the Outback, Las Vegas, Music City and Pinstripe Bowls for teams where the Gophers (8-4) had a better record than (Penn State, 7-5) or defeated (Wisconsin, Purdue and Maryland) . ). In addition, the game will be played against an opponent, West Virginia, with a .500 record on a Tuesday night at 9:15 p.m. Central Time.
The theorists who have the glass half full – especially those traveling to the game – will point out what Phoenix has to offer in late December: sunny skies, high temperatures that could hit the low 70s, a tiny chance of snow, almost 200 golf courses and a lively metropolitan region. It may not have the glamor of Las Vegas or the party vibe of NashVegas, but neither does the December weather of the Bronx.
Like it or not, that’s where the Gophers will be, starting on Christmas night when they arrive in Phoenix. They’ll have events and drills before they take on the Mountaineers at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Graf Gophers trainer PJ Fleck in the glass-half-full line-up.
“We are very honored to be there, very excited to be there,” said Fleck. “Over 70 degrees. Count us anytime. … Might even show up this week and start training now,” he added jokingly.
The Gophers appeared to be higher in the bowl chopping order after finishing 6-3 in the Big Ten and second place with Wisconsin and Purdue in the West Division, beating both the Badgers and Boilermakers. Minnesota went to the Outback Bowl in 2019, and Tampa officials this time selected Penn State and its national brand. The Las Vegas Bowl decided on Wisconsin. The Music City followed by Purdue, which is a five-hour drive away but also lost in this game three years ago 63-14 to Auburn. The Pinstripe Bowl was won by Maryland, at 6-6 the last Big Ten team to gain bowl eligibility.
“Some people might think of it as ‘Well, you’re a lower selected bowl,’ but I don’t know,” said Mike Nealy, CEO of both the Guaranteed Rate Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, teams including fans, you’d rather go to Detroit or New York or to sunny, warm Phoenix? ”
Nealy, a native of Roseville, a University of Minnesota graduate and former vice president of finance for The Wild, was impressed with the Gophers, especially how they ended the regular season with a 23-13 win over arch rivals Wisconsin.
“This is a resilient, well-trained, positive team,” said Nealy. “You are on the upswing.”
This is the fourth time the Gophers have played in this Arizona bowl. When it was known as the Insight Bowl and played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Minnesota lost 44:41 in overtime to Texas Tech in 2006, lost 42:21 to Kansas in 2008, and lost 14-13 to Iowa State in 2009.
Against West Virginia, the Gophers will try to expand their winning streak to five games. They are back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus and are playing in their third bowl under Fleck, after victories in the Quick Lane Bowl in 2018 and Outback Bowl in 2019.
“We have very good opponents. They are very talented and they play a very unique defense,” said Fleck. “I know Coach [Neal] Brown has been for a long time, and I know he’ll have his team ready to play. We have to get our team ready to play. It’s going to be a great matchup in the desert. ”
Like Fleck, Brown was optimistic about the prospect of a bowl game in Phoenix and looked forward to the challenge the Gophers present.
“We’re thrilled to be there,” said Brown. “I have a lot of respect for the Minnesota football program and what Coach Fleck has done there. … If you look at this team, their defense plays as well as anyone else in the country, and their offensive line is special.”