Gophers to face Texas Tech in Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston
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The Minnesota Gophers will end a two-year postseason absence with a trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 28 in Houston, where they will face Texas Tech.
The Gophers accepted their bid on Sunday evening, ensuring the program of its first bowl appearance of coach Jerry Kill's tenure and 15th overall.
Though also under consideration for the Heart of Dallas Bowl (Big Ten No. 7 vs. Big 12 No. 7), the Gophers ended up with the best game they were in range for. Not only does the Car Bowl have a better payout ($1.7 million), but the 8 p.m. ESPN slot also makes it a more desirable position over the Heart of Dallas' 11 a.m. kickoff on a heavily-scheduled New Year's Day. Purdue, the last of the Big Ten's eligible teams, was passed over by the Meineke committee and landed in Dallas.
"It's the bowl that we really wanted. It's the bowl that we certainly lobbied for the most," Gophers athletics director Norwood Teague said. "I'm proud of what we did there. They said it made a difference. We asked a lot of our fans to send letters to people on the committee."
The match-up with the Red Raiders brings up bitter memories for the Gophers. It will be a rematch of the 2006 Insight Bowl, which saw the Gophers let a 31-point lead slip as Texas Tech completed the largest comeback in FBS bowl history in a 44-41 overtime defeat. Former coach Glen Mason was fired shortly after the loss.
The Car Care Bowl berth is the Gophers' third bowl invite since 2006 (Insight Bowl - 2009), while Texas Tech has played in four in that span -- Gator Bowl (2008), Cotton Bowl (2009), Alamo Bowl (2010) and the TicketCity Bowl (2011).
Kill has gone through a season of harsh ups and downs -- several lopsided Big Ten losses, fallout from decision to buyout North Carolina from a pair of scheduled match-ups, wide receiver A.J. Barker's abrupt departure and Kill's ongoing battle with seizures. But in his second year with the team, Kill's Gophers matched the program's combined win total from the last two seasons with a 6-6 record (2-6 in the Big Ten).
For a program in obvious rebuilding mode, Kill sees the NCAA-mandated 15 extra practices granted to bowl teams, the same number allotted for spring practice, as one of the primary perks of making it to the postseason.
"It's critical, because we have a lot of other schools, just like us, getting those 15 practices," Kill said. "Not everybody gets them. We talk about getting on some type of even-keel, and it gives us the opportunity to be like everybody else in the Big Ten.
"With us having such a young, young football team, we'll be able to practice with our older guys with bowl preparation. Then we'll take our young guys and scrimmage and do all that stuff, so basically we get two spring balls with those kids."
The trip to Houston will be a homecoming of sorts for the 13 players on the Gophers' roster that hail from Texas, including senior linebacker and Dallas native Keanon Cooper.
"It's especially special to me, because none of my family from Dallas has been able to see me play in person," Cooper said. "It's big that it's my last game, but for them to have an opportunity to see me play at least once is huge for me."
On paper, the Gophers do not match up well with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders navigated through a deep Big 12 with a 7-5 overall record, carrying with them the nation's No. 2-ranked pass offense (361.92 yards per game) and 16th-ranked scoring offense (37.75). Meanwhile, the Gophers have been stagnate offensively. They scored 17 or fewer points in seven of their final eight games, bookended in their season finale against Michigan State with a 26-10 loss.