MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers’ bowl projections are coming up roses.
After their 31-26 victory over Penn State on Saturday, Nov. 9, five mainstream predictions have pegged Minnesota to play Utah in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year’s Day.
These projections factor in Ohio State as the favorite to win the Big Ten championship — with a potential conference title-game win over Minnesota in Indianapolis on Dec. 7.
The Buckeyes, who are presumed to be undefeated at that point, would then head to one of the national semifinal games.
Ohio State held the top spot in the first College Football Playoff ranking last week, while the Gophers were 17th. This week’s CFP ranking will be released Tuesday night, and the Gophers expect to make a big jump.
“Since January, we’ve been giving (players) the pressure that at some point you are going to have a target on your back,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said Monday. “That is the whole part about the pressure and the expectation. Sooner or later, you have enough pressure and you are succeeding, the pressure is going to get so high that the target becomes bigger and bigger and bigger.”
A domino effect forecast from Ohio State in the playoffs would mean the conference’s traditional spot in the Rose Bowl goes to the Gophers, based on two ESPN picks as well as picks from Bleacher Report, Sporting News and Stadium.
One differing view from CBS Sports has Wisconsin going to the Rose Bowl, bumping Minnesota down to the Citrus Bowl against Auburn.
The Gophers haven’t played in the coveted Rose Bowl since 1961, while they went to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., after the 2014 season, losing to Missouri 33-17.
Minnesota, 6-0 in Big Ten play, currently holds a two-game lead in the West division. They would have to lose one of their next two games to set up a massive all-in game against Wisconsin on Nov. 30.
If the Badgers win their next two games, they would be 6-2 going into the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe at TCF Bank Stadium. If the Gophers are, say, 7-1, a Wisconsin win would mean identical conference records, but the Badgers would advance to the Big Ten title game due to a head-to-head tiebreaker. They also would then be the likely candidate for the Rose Bowl.
The Gophers have plenty of work to do before any of these projections come into better focus.
Minnesota opened as a three-point underdog against Iowa (6-3, 3-3) for the 3 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
If Minnesota beats they Hawkeyes, Iowa would be eliminated from the West race, and it would end the Gophers’ drought without a win in Iowa City dating back to 1999. The Gophers then play last-place Northwestern (1-8, 0-7) in Evanston, Ill., on Nov. 23 before playing host to Wisconsin.