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Holiday vacation plans? Take a look at the Gophers bowl game forecast

This is the time of year is usually when Gophers football fans  hope and plead for a sixth victory in order to become bowl eligible and have their team’s season extend for another few weeks and end up in an exotic destination like Detroit, where Minnesota has played in two of the last four Quick Lane Bowls.

But P.J. Fleck’s team took care of the bowl eligibility issue by winning its first six games and now, at 8-0 and with an interesting and formidable slate of four games ahead, the Gophers are primed for a bowl game that could have an impact of your holiday vacation plans – if you’re the kind of fan who’d pick up and head someplace warm and football notorious.

This is the time of year when the bowl forecasts of national experts can be taken a bit more seriously, and it feels like the right time to offer up their thoughts about where the Gophers could end up.

Let’s start with the premise that Minnesota is still a longshot for the College Football Playoffs. Not only would the Gophers need to win the Big Ten championship, which would likely mean beating Ohio State, but they’d have to hope for a series of events that would take some of the other traditional football mega-powers out of the running.

The website gives the Gophers a 1 in 10 chance of winning the Big Ten title and slightly better than a 1 in 20 chance of being among the four teams in the College Football Playoff.

Now we can get to a more realistic level, which would be one of the New Year’s Six games that isn’t part of the four-team playoff or another New Year’s game that would feature the Gophers against a really-big-deal opponent.

Let’s take a look:

ESPN’s football bowl experts, Mark Schlabach and Kyle Bonagura have Minnesota playing in prime games. Schlabach has the Gophers facing Texas A&M in the Outback Bowl in Tampa and Bonagura has then going to the Orange Bowl in Miami against Wake Forest.

Sports Illustrated also has the Gophers playing Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl; CBS bowl expert Jerry Palm, USA Today, and Athlon Sports, which publishes preseason guides to college and pro sports, all agree with Schlabach and has them meeting Texas A&M in the Outback.

The Banner Society website, which is part of SB Nation, has Minnesota vs. Texas A&M in the Outback Bowl, as well as a breakdown of how it arrives as the various bowl match-ups. Keep in mind this isn’t exactly a meritocracy, with ESPN having a controlling interest in a number of games and other bowls often looking for a local team or regional match-up more than the best teams available.

The Sporting News sends the Gophers to the Outback Bowl but has them playing Mississippi State..

College Football News has Minnesota playing Kentucky in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2, the college football hangover day.

Also, keep in mind that these projections can be fluid. Go back to the beginning of the month, for example, and Bleacher Report had picked Wisconsin for the Rose Bowl and had the Gophers going to New York City to play North Carolina State in the Pinstripe Bowl. (New York City, good. Opponent, OK. Yankee Stadium, not for a Minnesota fan who also has a fondness for baseball).

Another example of bowl logic: The 247 sports site has Minnesota playing Auburn in the Citrus Bowl and explains it this way: “Minnesota played in this game a few years ago against Missouri, but that team wasn't unbeaten through nine weeks with visions of a bigger bowl, either. At this point, the Gophers heading to Orlando is near worst-case scenario for a team that has made tremendous strides under P.J. Fleck. Auburn fans travel well and the Tigers haven't played in this game in more than a decade.”

So here are five takeaways:

Minnesota’s low-end bowl game should be way higher than the seasons of six or seven victories.

Bowl match-ups aren’t always fair once television and geography gets thrown in.

The College Football Playoff (Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl for the semifinals) is a big, big longshot and Minnesota isn’t yet getting enough respect to have experts penciling them in for the Rose Bowl.

Every undefeated team from a Power 5 conference, which includes the Big Ten, has made the College Football Playoff in its five-year history. Of the six one-loss teams that haven't made it from those conferences, four have been from the Big Ten.

Stay away from this stuff until after the Gophers-Penn State game a week from Saturday. Then, depending on what happens, start looking at flight schedules and hotel rates.

Another dose of disrespect? Gophers the underdog vs. Penn State in early betting lines

Is this another dose of disrespect?

It started when the cynics looked at Minnesota’s football schedule and noted that a good record in 2019 would be compromised by the fact that the Gophers’ crossover games in the Big Ten included Rutgers and Maryland instead of Ohio State and Michigan. You can still hear that one now and then, and even if it’s the truth, it’s probably time to move on.

Then the Gophers won their three nonconference games and the skeptics noted they weren’t overly impressive in beating South Dakota State (an FCS team) by one touchdown, Fresno State (which has struggled to a 3-4 record) on a final-minute score and Georgia Southern (a close call against a team with a 4-3 record from a flimsy conference) with a late-game comeback.

Fast forward through the Big Ten schedule and the Gophers are 8-0, one of nine remaining undefeated teams in major college football, and one of three in the Big Ten along with Ohio State and Penn State.

Penn State. That bring us to the latest perceived indignities: The odds on the Nov. 9 game between the Gophers and Nittany Lions at TCF Bank Stadium. The one with the 11 a.m. kickoff that many people hoped would be on in prime time instead. (See, we can always find things to get worked up about.)

First, it was ESPN running its matchup predictor on the game a week from Saturday and giving Penn State a 73.1% chance of beating Minnesota.

Also, in the trickle of pregame analysis that will gain much more steam next week, Tzvi Machlin of The Spun wrote: “Penn State has looked as good as ever under head coach James Franklin this year. However, the Nittany Lions have had a fairly tougher schedule to date than the Golden Gophers. They’ve played – and beaten – two ranked teams, while Minnesota hasn’t played any. Their defense is also among the best in the nation, allowing more than 13 points only once so far.”

And now the earliest betting lines on the game are out … and Penn State is listed as a 6½-point favorite on two of the web-based sports books that have established a betting line.

For a fan base that plays the no-respect card more often than any other in the Twin Cities, with Lynx fans running second in that race, it will be interesting to see how people react. Will this be seen as another instance of the Gophers not getting what they deserve? Or an acknowledgement that as good as the Gophers have been, their underdog status for the big battle is the right one?

On a less-than-scientific front, a Star Tribune “poll” asks fans to assess the chances of Minnesota winning the game on a scale from 0 to 100% So far, three in five have put the Gophers chances at 40% or less.

Are they being realists … or just self-loathing?

Our suggestion for those still throwing a pity party over how the Gophers are being treated: Start looking at the bowl projections from national experts … and take heart that nobody has Minnesota going to the Quick Lane Bowl this year.

That’s where Nebraska could end up, if it manages to win a couple more games this season.