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
The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) looked like they may have been caught sleepwalking their way through their regular season finale on Saturday, but a 21-0 fourth quarter advantage rallied the Big Ten West Division champions past rival Minnesota (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten). The Badgers closed out a 10-win regular season with a 31-17 thumping of Minnesota by shutting out the Gophers in the second half.
Corey Clement scored two rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Gophers were crumbling. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner was picked off four times in the loss and he completed just nine of 26 pass attempts for 158 yards. Leidner also led the Gophers on the ground with 46 yards and a touchdown. Leidner played well in the first half but could not make a big play in the second half. The Badgers had to replace Alex Hornibrook with Bart Houston after Hornibrook got knocked out with a rough hit. Houston did his part, completing eight of 14 attempts for 123 yards. Wisconsin also rolled up 210 yards of rushing offense.
Wisconsin will head to Indianapolis next week to play in the Big Ten Championship Game to play Penn State, who clinched the Big Ten East with a win over Michigan State and an Ohio State victory over Michigan earlier in the day. The Badgers are making their fourth trip to the Big Ten championship game, and will do so under a third different coach in Paul Chryst. Bret Bielema coached the Badgers to two Big Ten Leaders Division championships in 2011 and 2012 and Gary Andersen took the Badgers to the championship game with the West Division title in 2014. Wisconsin is 2-1 in Big Ten title games. The Badgers are also on the bubble for the College Football Playoff as they head to Indy.
Minnesota will await a bowl invitation with possibilities including the Holiday Bowl or Music City Bowl as most likely destinations.
Already having the Big Ten West Division clinched by virtue of Nebraska’s loss on Friday, the Wisconsin Badgers are struggling a little bit at home this afternoon against rival Minnesota in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Ax. The Golden Gophers hold a 17-7 lead at halftime in Madison.
Minnesota opened the game with a short field goal by Emmit Carpenter. After the teams exchanged punts on the next four possessions, Wisconsin put a dent on the scoreboard with a 10-play drive spanning 80 yards and culminating with a short run by Alec Ingold to put the Badgers on top, briefly. Mitch Leidner completed a 13-yard pass to the end zone after KiAnte Hardin returned the kickoff following the Wisconsin touchdown 69 yards. Minnesota added to its lead late in the first half with a Leidner touchdown run at the end of a seven-play, 68-yard drive.
Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook was on the receiving end of a rough hit on the sideline in the first half that caused Wisconsin to not be very happy, although there may not have been anything dirty about the play.
Wisconsin is already heading to Indianapolis next week to face either Ohio State or Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Minnesota will be without starting quarterback Mitch Leidner this week against Rutgers. Leidner will be sidelined due to lingering concussion symptoms. Conor Rhoda will get the start in place of Leidner this week.
This will be the second straight game Leidner will miss due to concussion symptoms. He was officially ruled out for this week’s homecoming game against the Scarlet Knights, although he has been cleared for light activity during practices.
“We put a lot more on the quarterback’s plate now than what we have in the past, and you need to practice,” Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys said when asked about the possibility of getting Leidner involved enough this week to have him ready for Saturday’s game. “So I’m not saying that he won’t, but I think it’s extremely difficult for that.”
Rhoda started last week in place of the concussed Leidner and led the Gophers to a 31-10 victory over Maryland. With Rutgers coming in having lost nine straight Big Ten games dating back to last season, it looks pretty favorable for Rhoda to go 2-0 as Minnesota’s starter.
The Big Ten already saw one five-win team pick up a bowl victory this bowl season. Minnesota is looking to become the second. The Golden Gophers landed a spot in the Quick Lane Bowl after vacancies were left to fill this season despite ending the year with just five wins. After one half of play in the Quick Lane Bowl, however, Minnesota leads Central Michigan from the MAC 10-7 in Detroit.
Central Michigan orchestrated a 15-play drive covering 82 yards to get on the scoreboard. The drive consisted of three third-down conversions, with the third counting for the first touchdown of the game. Cooper Rush picked up the yard needed to cross the goal line on third down on the first play of the second quarter. Minnesota answered with a touchdown drive of its own with Mitch Leidner completing an 11-yard touchdown pass to KJ Maye to regain the lead. The drive was keyed by a big 30-yard run by Shannon Brooks from the Minnesota 45-yard line. Minnesota was the first team to score with a field goal on the game’s opening possession.
Former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill and former Central Michigan head coach Herb Deromedi were on the field for the pregame coin flip. Kill made the emotional decision to retire earlier this season but was on hand to shake hands with his now former players before they took the field. The Detroit Free Press reports Kill is currently in the process of writing a book.