With their 17-3 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are bowl eligible for the first time since 2009, and the first time under head coach Jerry Kill. Thanks to some fortunate circumstances. . .or unfortunate, depending on your perspective. . .the Golden Gophers might end up going to a bowl game with significantly higher billing than they ordinarily might.
Two teams, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Penn State Nittany Lions, have enough wins to be bowl-eligible, but due to various NCAA sanctions are unable to play in the post-season this year. Because of this, the Wisconsin Badgers clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, as they share a division with both Penn State and Ohio State.
As it stands now, the B1G bowl eligibility breakdown looks like this:
Ineligible for post-season play
Penn State Nittany Lions
Ohio State Buckeyes
Met standards for bowl qualification
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Can potentially become eligible
Iowa Hawkeyes (4-6, games at Michigan and at home against Nebraska. . .need to win both)
Michigan State Spartans (5-5, games at home against Northwestern and at Minnesota. . .need to win one)
Indiana Hoosiers (4-6, games at Penn State and at Purdue. . .need to win both)
Purdue Boilermakers (4-6, games at Illinois and at home against Indiana. . .need to win both)
No chance of bowl eligibility in 2012
Illinois Fighting Illini (2-8)
Of those four teams, the Spartans obviously have the best chance to get themselves invited to the post-season party, as they only need to win one of their final two games as opposed to needing to win both. Iowa has two games against Top 25 opponents ahead of them, and Purdue and Indiana could potentially cancel themselves out.
The following bowls have connections to the Big Ten conference, according to the folks at CBS Sports.
Rose Bowl - January 1, Pasadena, CA (Big Ten vs. Pac Ten)
Capital One Bowl - January 1, Orlando, FL (Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2)
Outback Bowl - January 1, Tampa, FL (Big Ten #3 vs. SEC)
Gator Bowl - January 1, Jacksonville, FL (Big Ten #4/5 vs. SEC #6)
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - December 29, Phoenix, AZ (Big Ten #4/5 vs. Big Twelve #4)
Meineke Car Care Bowl - December 28, Houston, TX (Big Ten #6 vs. Big Twelve #6)
Heart of Dallas Bowl - January 1, Dallas, TX (Big Ten #7 vs. Big Twelve/Conference USA)
Little Caesar's Bowl - December 26, Detroit, MI (Big Ten #8 vs. Mid-American Conference)
Right now, CBS Sports has the Gophers projected to the Meineke Car Care Bowl against the Iowa State Cyclones. Strangely, that would be a "rematch" of the Gophers' last bowl trip, when they lost 14-13 to the Cyclones in the 2009 Insight Bowl.
It doesn't appear as though the Big Ten will get enough teams eligible to meet all of their bowl obligations, and if that's the case, Gopher fans will likely have to travel a significant distance to see their team in post-season action, as the Little Caesar's Bowl would probably be the first bowl chopped from the B1G's list if it played out that way.
The Gophers' final two games of the year are a trip to #14 Nebraska and the season finale against Michigan State at home. It's tough to project the Gophers winning either of those games, so they'll probably stay at six victories and be towards the bottom of the list of bowl-eligible Big Ten teams. That probably means a trip to Texas, whether it be Houston or Dallas.
Either way, the Gophers and their fans will likely be quite happy to be there.