The Bard of Avon, so the story goes, once wrote that politics makes strange bedfellows, or similar words. To put it in college football terms, Billy Shakespeare basically said that sooner or later you will fire for a team you would normally despise.
For Gophers football fans who love to travel to bowl games, this week’s odd bedfellow is Penn State. They 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. Like not spending the day after Christmas there for the Quick Lane Bowl, the final game in the Big Ten’s bowl pecking order.
This is where Penn State comes in. The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 11 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, one place behind Tennessee, who finish against Vanderbilt. With the winner of Saturday’s Ohio State vs. Michigan game in the playoffs and the loser in the Rose Bowl if not in the playoff, the Big Ten will have at least two teams in the New Year’s Six Bowls — Fiesta and Peach, respectively Playoffs semifinals followed by Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton.
If Penn State can overtake Tennessee, they 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 Bowl-eligible teams would move up one spot in the bowl pecking order.
Another way for the Big Ten to get three teams into the New Year’s Six would be Ohio State and Michigan, both making the playoffs, and Penn State making the Rose Bowl. That would likely require a loss through TCU and/or USC.
Should Penn State be selected for the Orange Bowl, it would not help the other Big Ten teams as the Citrus Bowl would then need an ACC team to fill the Big Ten slot.
The Gophers must first help themselves by beating Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday. That would leave them an 8-4 record and drop the Badgers to 6-6.
Minnesota’s bowl destination will likely be one of four: Nashville’s Music City, New York’s Pinstripe, Charlotte’s Duke’s Mayo, and Detroit’s Quick Lane. The Gophers went to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix last year, so a repeat is unlikely. Here’s a look at each:
- Music City (Dec. 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 and then land the Big Ten with three teams in the college football playoffs. Minnesota’s competition for Nashville to face an SEC opponent appears to be Illinois.
- Pinstripes (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 mix to face an ACC opponent.
- Duke’s Mayo (December 30, Charlotte): This bowl has a split agreement with the Big Ten and the SEC to face an ACC opponent, and this year it’s the Big Ten’s turn. Due to its proximity, Maryland could be the Gophers’ competition for landing here. Wisconsin played Charlotte in 2020, so the Badgers are unlikely to return.
- Quick Lane (Dec. 26, Detroit): If the Gophers lose to Wisconsin, they may be in line for a third trip to Ford Field since 2015 to face a Mid-American Conference opponent. If Minnesota wins, the Badgers could make their first appearance here.
Here are the projections of the New Year’s Six and Big Ten coming up on Friday:
Fiesta Bowl (Playoff): Ohio State vs. TCU
Peach Bowl (Playoff): Georgia vs. USC
Rose: Michigan vs. Oregon
Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama
Zucker: 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
Pinstripes: Purdue vs. Pittsburgh
Duke’s Mayo: Gophers vs. Duke
Guaranteed Prize: Wisconsin vs. Baylor
Quick Lane: Maryland vs. Eastern Michigan