Gophers going to Citrus Bowl for first New Year’s game since '62
MINNEAPOLIS - Never say never. The Gophers thought their chances for the Citrus Bowl were a long shot heading into Sunday's selections, but they got the biggest surprise possible by being picked to play Missouri in Orlando on New Year's Day.
MINNEAPOLIS – Never say never. The Gophers thought their chances for the Citrus Bowl were a long shot heading into Sunday’s selections, but they got the biggest surprise possible by being picked to play Missouri in Orlando on New Year’s Day.
It’s the University of Minnesota football program’s third New Year’s Day bowl ever, and first since beating UCLA in the 1962 Rose Bowl.
Missouri (10-3) lost 42-13 to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
The Gophers (8-4) lost 34-24 to Wisconsin for a chance to go to the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers seemed to dash Minnesota’s hopes at a New Year’s Day bowl with a 59-0 loss to Ohio State in Indianapolis Saturday.
How did so much change in less than 24 hours?
The final College Football Playoff ranking not only surprised fans by putting Ohio State in the four-team playoff, but it also made things interesting with Mississippi State moving past Michigan State to earn an Orange Bowl berth.
That meant the Citrus Bowl could pick a Big Ten team, with 10-3 Wisconsin, Minnesota and 9-3 Nebraska as the top candidates.
“Minnesota’s got a lot of good things going for it,” Citrus Bowl rep Dave Korducki said Monday. “You have a coach who has a big backing in the football community. Everywhere Jerry Kill has gone; he’s had success and has carried his assistants with him. Coach Kill is really doing something right to keep everybody together, which is almost unheard of.
Then you have a team with a lot of history that dates back to ’60s, but not a lot since then.”
The Badgers played there last season, losing 34-24 to South Carolina. The Cornhuskers, who lost to the Gophers 28-24 this season, also played in the Citrus Bowl in 2011 (lost 30-13 to South Carolina) and 2012 (lost 45-31 to Georgia).
Wisconsin is now playing Auburn in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., this season. Nebraska is playing Southern California in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
The Gophers are vying for their first bowl win since beating Alabama in the Music City Bowl in 2004.
They lost to Syracuse 21-17 and Texas Tech 34-31 in back-to-back bowl games in Houston the last two years.
But the Gophers picked up the most momentum in decades after upsetting Nebraska 28-24 and getting within a victory of the Big Ten West Division title.
Losses to Texas Christian, Ohio State and Wisconsin weren’t embarrassing. In fact, Minnesota was within striking distance against the Buckeyes and Badgers in the fourth quarter.
Those factors likely played into the selection process.
It also helped that Nebraska just hired Mike Riley to replace Bo Pelini, who was fired last week.
And the Gophers received a major boost with Jerry Kill being named Big Ten coach of the year, the program’s first since Glen Mason in 1999.