Las Vegas or Nashville. Phoenix, Tampa or the Bronx.
One of those five cities is expected to be the bowl destination for the Gophers when assignments are announced Sunday. By closing its regular season with a 23-13 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday, Minnesota (8-4) bolstered its résumé and gave bowl officials something to think about.
“The one thing that sticks in my head is their last game,” John Saccenti, executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl, said of the Gophers. “That was a game that was really important to them. They beat a team that was on fire.”
The key for the Gophers and the rest of the conference will be if three Big Ten teams are selected for the New Year’s Six bowls. Michigan, if it beats Iowa in the conference title game, will be a lock for the College Football Playoff. Ohio State and Michigan State could be in the Rose and Fiesta, respectively.
“I’m in a wait-and-see position with what happens not only with the New Year’s Six games but also the selections of the Citrus and the Outback,” said Scott Ramsey, president and CEO of the Music City Bowl.
Here’s a breakdown of the Gophers’ bowl possibilities:
Las Vegas Bowl (9:30 p.m. Dec. 30): This game at Allegiant Field matches a Big Ten team against a Pac-12 opponent, and its Big Ten selection will be made after the Citrus and Outback make their picks. Saccenti said Penn State (7-5), the Gophers and Purdue (8-4) are the teams from which his bowl will choose if three Big Ten teams make the New Year’s Six. If it’s only two, Wisconsin (8-4) would join the Gophers and Purdue in that mix.
“We go through everything,” Saccenti said. “We do talk about head-to-head, teams that they beat, teams that they lost to. Quite frankly, it comes down to tickets, travel and TV.” Penn State, with its national brand, might have the edge there.
Music City Bowl (2 p.m. Dec. 30, Nashville): The Gophers’ competition for this bowl appears to be Purdue, a reasonable drive away, and Penn State. “It’s a lot of feel and what-ifs,” Ramsey said of his bowl’s decision. “Ultimately, you just try to make the best decision you can for each year.”
Guaranteed Rate Bowl (9:15 p.m. Dec. 28, Phoenix): This game matches a Big Ten team against a Big 12 opponent in the Arizona Diamondbacks ballpark, and Minnesota played in it three times (2006, 2008, 2009) when it was known as the Insight Bowl and played at Sun Devil Stadium.
The bowl’s chief executive, Mike Nealy, is a Roseville native, University of Minnesota graduate and former vice president of finance for the Wild. His bowl will pick after the Pinstripe.
“Absolutely, they’re in the mix,” Nealy said of the Gophers. “… It’s not a stretch when you look at proximity and which teams are where. … Would you rather go to Detroit, New York or sunny, warm Phoenix?”
The long shots
Outback Bowl (11 a.m. Jan. 1, Tampa): The Gophers played in the Outback two years ago, and the bowl’s contract calls for five different teams in a six-year span. There’s a slight chance they end up here, but Wisconsin is the likely choice.
Pinstripe Bowl (1:15 p.m. Dec. 29, New York): Proximity would seem to aim the Yankee Stadium bowl officials toward Maryland or Penn State, if available.
The New Year’s Six and Big Ten bowl projections
Cotton (playoff semifinal): Michigan vs. Oklahoma State
Orange (playoff semifinal): Georgia vs. Cincinnati
Rose: Ohio State vs. Utah
Peach: Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss
Fiesta: Michigan State vs. Notre Dame
Sugar: Alabama vs. Baylor
Citrus: Iowa vs. Kentucky
Outback: Wisconsin vs. Arkansas
Las Vegas: Penn State vs. Arizona State
Music City: Purdue vs. Tennessee
Pinstripe: Maryland vs. Virginia
Guaranteed Rate: Gophers vs. West Virginia