WHO: Minnesota (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)
WHAT: The 39th National Funding Holiday Bowl
WHEN: 7:00 PM ET, ESPN
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
THE SKINNY: Minnesota will be down a number of players due to a controversial decision by the school to suspend 10 players from football activities, which caused a bit of a distraction during the prep for the bowl matchup. A team decision to boycott team activities until their suspended teammates were reinstated was aborted after a short period of time and some clarity to the situation was provided. That may or may not play a major factor in the preparation for the game at this point, but the fact 10 players will be missing is not to be overlooked. Minnesota may be a decent defensive team, but they could easily be worn down in the worst possible area against Washington State’s pass-heavy offensive approach.
The quarterback showdown alone between Mitch Leidner of Minnesota and Luke Falk of Washington State will be intriguing considering each could be playing football in the NFL in the near future. Mike Leach will have Falk passing on first, second and third downs all game long, with Gabe Marks being his top target. That passing game should have some opportunities to make some big plays that could hurt Minnesota in a hurry.
The Gophers will be a bit more balanced on offense (as most Washington State opponents tend to be by comparison). The Gophers will contrast with more of a running game with 1,000-yard rusher Rodney Smith leading the charge on the ground. Leidner is capable of picking up some yards on the ground as well.
Washington State’s season may not have ended the way it had hoped for the bulk of the season, but it looks to have a favorable chance to end things on a high note against the Gophers.
THE PREDICTION: Washington State 45, Minnesota 27