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Gophers fans must cheer on an enemy in the team’s quest for a better bowl game

The Bard of Avon, as the story goes, once wrote that politics makes strange bedfellows, or words to that effect. In college football terms, Billy Shakespeare was basically saying that sooner or later you would support a team you would usually despise.

For Gophers football fans who like to travel to catch bowling games, the odd bedfellow this week is Penn State. You’ll want the Nittany Lions to beat Michigan State on Saturday.

Why, in the name of the Governor’s Victory Bell, would a Gophers fan want Penn State to win? This answer is simple.

Detroit. As if to avoid spending Boxing Day there for the Quick Lane Bowl, the last game in the Big Ten’s bowl pecking order.

That’s where Penn State comes in. The Nittany Lions are No. 11 in the latest college football playoff standings, one spot behind Tennessee, which finishes against Vanderbilt. With Ohio State winning over Michigan on Saturday a lock to be in the playoffs and Rose Bowl loser if not the playoffs, the Big Ten will have at least two teams in all six New Year’s Bowls — the Fiesta and Peach being the semi-final playoffs, joined by Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton.

If Penn State can edge out Tennessee, it could become a third Big Ten team in the New Year’s Six. And if the Nittany Lions are selected for the Cotton Bowl, the remaining Big Ten-eligible teams would move up one spot in the bowl pecking order.

Another way for the Big Ten to get three teams in the New Year’s Six would be for Ohio State and Michigan to both make the playoffs and Penn State to enter the Rose Bowl. This would probably require a loss by TCU and/or USC.

If Penn State were selected for the Orange Bowl, it wouldn’t help the other Big Ten teams, because the Citrus Bowl would then take a team from the ACC to fill the Big Ten spot.

The Gophers have to help themselves first by beating Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison. That would leave them 8-4 and drop the Badgers to 6-6.

Minnesota’s bowling destination will likely be one of four: Music City in Nashville, Pinstripe in New York, Duke’s Mayo in Charlotte and Quick Lane in Detroit. The Gophers went to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix last year, so a repeat is unlikely. Here is an overview of each:

  • Music City (December 31, Nashville): New Year’s Eve in NashVegas would be appealing to Gophers fans, and the team will likely need some help getting here. First, the Gophers must beat Wisconsin, then have the Big Ten land three teams in the college football playoffs. Minnesota’s competition for Nashville to face an SEC foe appears to be Illinois.
  • Pinstripe (December 29, New York): This game, played at Yankee Stadium, has hosted seven different Big Ten teams since 2014, so one of those years could be the Gophers’ turn. A win over Wisconsin would help. Illinois and Purdue are also in the game to face an opponent from the ACC.
  • Duke’s Mayo (December 30, Charlotte): This bowl has a shared arrangement with the Big Ten and the SEC to face an opponent from the ACC, and it’s the Big Ten’s turn this year. Due to the proximity, Maryland could be competition for the Gophers to land here. Wisconsin played in Charlotte in 2020, so the Badgers likely won’t return.
  • Quick Lane (December 26, Detroit): If the Gophers lose to Wisconsin, they could be in line for a third trip to Ford Field since 2015 to face a Mid-American Conference foe. If Minnesota wins, the Badgers could make their first appearance here.

Here are the New Year’s Six and Big Ten projections entering Friday:

Fiesta Bowl (playoffs): Ohio State vs. TCU

Peach Bowl (playoffs): Georgia vs. USC

Pink: Michigan vs. Oregon

Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama

Sugar: LSU vs. Kansas State

Cotton: Tennessee vs. Cincinnati

Other Big Ten bowls

Citrus: Penn State vs. Ole Miss

ReliaQuest: Iowa vs. South Carolina

Music City: Illinois vs. Kentucky

Pinstripe: Purdue vs. Pittsburgh

Duke’s Mayo: Gophers vs. Duke

Guaranteed Rate: Wisconsin vs. Baylor

Fast Lane: Maryland vs. Eastern Michigan

startribune Gt Itly

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