That was quite the shakeup on Saturday.
And to think it came from one 8-0 team beating another 8-0 team.
Minnesota and Penn State had equal records coming into Saturday but they were nowhere near equal in terms of perception. Not in the eyes of most fans and pundits. For sure not in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee, which ranked the Nittany Lions No. 4 and the Golden Gophers No. 17 in the first rankings, released last week.
Minnesota was ranked behind all 6 other undefeated teams, 4 teams with one loss and 6 teams with two losses, including two 2-loss teams in the Big Ten.
We admit, Minnesota didn’t garner a lot of respect in this space, either.
As late as last week the undefeated Golden Gophers were listed fifth among B1G teams in the bowl projections. As we remind readers often, these projections are all about where we think teams will wind up in December, not where they are now. We figured Minnesota was headed for at least two regular-season losses, maybe three.
Well, all that has changed with Saturday’s huge win over Penn State. We now have Minnesota projected as the B1G West Division winner. Even if PJ Fleck’s crew should slip in the next 3 weeks to either Iowa or Wisconsin, Minnesota is most likely headed to the B1G Championship Game, probably to face Ohio State (actually that notion got even more likely with Penn State losing).
And if Minnesota gets to Indianapolis with, say, an 11-1 record and loses (again, probably to the Buckeyes) we think that’s good enough to vault the Golden Gophers past the rest of the conference competition after OSU. With the Buckeyes projected to the CFP semifinals that would mean the Rose Bowl gets the next B1G choice and we think Minnesota would head to Pasadena for the first time since Jan. 1, 1962.
Quite a feat for a program which is 9-0 for the first time since 1904.
Speaking of the Buckeyes, we still have them running the table and making the CFP but with a different destination. Between LSU beating Alabama and OSU being No. 1 in the first CFP rankings, ahead of Clemson, we now have the Buckeyes heading to the Fiesta Bowl to face the ACC champs in the semifinals.
Elsewhere in the B1G projections, Illinois had an amazing comeback win at Michigan State to clinch bowl eligibility. The Spartans are left hanging on the edge of a losing season. We still project MSU to go bowling at 6-6, right at the bottom of the conference’s selection list.
Now, on to our B1G bowl projections, in the conference’s approximate bowl selection order: