Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm not trying to jinx this but...

This is not looking too far ahead. This is...well it's trying to figure out just where the road laid out before the Gophers leads. To Pasadena? Orlando? Tucson? I'll be honest: the Rose Bowl is a long shot, and I'm certainly not getting my hopes up. Sure we would LOVE to see the Gophs make their first Rose Bowl since 1962, but I'm not counting on it. I would LOVE just to see Minnesota in either the Capital One or Outback bowls. Just give us a New Year's Day Bowl. Please.

Anyway, we've got four weeks left in the Big 10 season to find out, and of course a few more weeks for everybody else to decide the bowl participants. Right now, the Gophers are essentially tied for third in the conference with Michigan State (the Gopher, Spartans, and Ohio State all have one Big 10 loss, but the Buckeyes hold tie-breakers over both). In order to try and figure out where the Gophers are going, let's first figure out what the teams ahead of them need to do.

While anything is possible in this crazy season, I think we can concede that Penn State will go on to win the Big 10, and we hope, play for the national championship, which would potentially free up a spot in the Rose Bowl for the second place Big 10 team. The Gophs don't play Penn State and would need the Nittany Lions to lose twice in order for to be ranked ahead of them. So Minnesota fans should be cheering for the Joe Pa's to win their last three games (@ Iowa and then they finish at home against Indiana and Michigan State), which right now looks VERY doable. Of course, they'd still need a loss from two or all three of the undefeated teams from the Big 12 and SEC to go to the National Title. We know that because #7 Texas Tech hosts #1 Texas on Saturday, we'll be down to two other BCS conference undefeateds by Sunday. How likely is it that the other two teams could remain unbeaten? Honestly? Not likely. Here's the remaining schedules for the Longhorns, Red Raiders and Crimson Tide...

#1 Texas
11/1 @ #7 Texas Tech
11/8 Baylor
11/15 @ Kansas
11/27 Texas A&M
12/6 Big 12 Title Game??

#2 Alabama
11/1 Arkansas State
11/8 @ #19 LSU
11/15 Mississippi State
11/29 Auburn
12/6 SEC Championship Game??

#7 Texas Tech
11/1 #1 Texas
11/8 #9 Oklahoma State
11/22 @ #4 Oklahoma
11/29 Baylor
12/6 Big 12 Championship Game??

Wow is that is a BREW-TAL finish for Texas Tech!! IF they somehow managed to run that gauntlet, they would deservedly finish ranked ahead of an undefeated Penn State team, but I'm going out on a limb to say the Red Raiders won't do it. Alabama certainly has a chance to run the table, but with a road visit to Death Valley at LSU, the Iron Bowl rivalry with Auburn and then a potential Big 12 championship game against either Florida or Georgia, it's not going to be easy. Texas probably has the "easiest" road of the three, but again, they're not a shoo in either.

For Gopher fans, I think the best case scenario would be a Texas Tech win over Texas, and then hope/expect a Texas Tech loss somewhere the rest of the way (If I were a betting man, or if it was legal, I wouldn't be betting on the Red Raiders AT Oklahoma. No way no how!). After that, whatever Alabama does won't effect Penn State much since there's noone else that would leapfrog Penn State if they win out (and honestly, if you can't have the Gophs in the national championship, how sweet would it be to have a Penn State/Alabama title game?).

Back in the Big 10, we know the Gophs don't play Penn State or Michigan State, but they might have the best November schedule of the remaining contenders not in Happy Valley. Ohio State closes @ Northwestern (11/8), @ Illinois (11/15) and Michigan at home (11/22), and while they'll be favored in all of them, all three could be tricky games. Michigan State has Wisconsin (11/1), Purdue (11/8), and @ Penn State (11/22). I'd chalk up wins for the Spartans in the first two and an almost certain loss to the Nittany Lions. Iowa (@ Illinois, Penn State, Purdue, @ Minnesota) and Northwestern (@ Minnesota, Ohio State, @ Michigan, Illinois) both have just two conference losses, but also would be lucky to win out from here.

IF, and I realize with all this program has been through in the past 40 or so years that is one GIGANTIC IF, the Gophers could somehow someway take care of business in their final four Big 10 games, they've got a good chance of playing in a New Year's Day Bowl for the first time since they beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl in 1962. If nothing else, it's been a LONG time since we've entered November being able to even say that.

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