Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7)
Time: 4:00 P.M CT, Monday, December 28th
TV: ESPN2 - Dave Neal (Play-by-Play), Matt Stinchcomb (Analyst) and Kayce Smith (Sideline)
Last game: Central Michigan beats Eastern Michigan, Minnesota loses to Wisconsin 31-21
All-time series: Gophers lead the series 1-0-0 (30-10 Minnesota in the Metrodome, September 1987)
Vegas betting line: Minnesota (-5) Over/Under (48 points)
Know Your Enemy: Five questions with Central Michigan beat writer Nate Schneider
Five things you need to know
1) Minnesota will play Central Michigan in the 2015 Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit. Minnesota is 1-0 all-time against Central Michigan, as the Gophers won 30-10 at the Metrodome on Sept. 16, 1987. In that game, Rickie Foggie, Darrell Thompson and Gary Couch rushed for touchdowns and Chip Lohmiller kicked three field goals in the win. The Quick Lane Bowl marks Minnesota’s first bowl game appearance in Michigan and is the Gophers first trip to the Great Lake State since it won 30-14 at Michigan on Sept. 27, 2014.
2) Minnesota, which owns a 5-7 record, earned a bid into the Quick Lane Bowl this year based on the team’s high APR mark of 975. The Quick Lane Bowl is the 18th bowl game that Minnesota will play in and is the fourth-straight bowl game for the Gophers. The four straight bowl games is the second longest stretch in team history, as Minnesota played in five straight bowl games spanning the 2002-06 seasons. Minnesota is 6-11 all-time in bowl games but has lost its last seven bowl games (five by four points or less). Minnesota’s last win in a bowl game was a 20-16 victory against Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl where both Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney rushed for more than 100 yards
3) Minnesota has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year. The Gophers have faced (AP rankings at time of the game) No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 TCU, No. 8 Iowa, No. 15 Michigan and No. 16 Northwestern. Minnesota also played Wisconsin, who ended the season ranked No. 23. The Gophers faced three top-15 teams in Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa in three straight weeks. The last time Minnesota played three straight games against top 15 teams was 2002 when it played No. 6 Ohio State, No. 13 Michigan and No. 6 Iowa. Baylor was the only other team in the regular season to play three straight top-15 opponents, as it played No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 15 TCU.
4) Minnesota was the only Big Ten team to play (rankings at time of game) No. 1 Ohio State, No. 8 Iowa, No. 15 Michigan, No. 16 Northwestern and Wisconsin this year. Those teams have a combined 51-10 record and Minnesota’s seven defeats have come to teams (Iowa, Ohio State, Northwestern, TCU, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska) with a combined 66-19 record (Nebraska has 7 of 19 losses). If Michigan and Wisconsin win their bowl games then the Gophers would have faced six teams (in addition to Iowa, Ohio State, Northwestern and TCU) who won at least 10 games this season
5) Nine of Minnesota’s 12 regular season opponents will play in a bowl game this year. Those nine opponents have a combined record of 81-28 and all won at least seven games. Minnesota posted a home win against Ohio (Bobcats ended season at 8-4) and ended Colorado State’s school record nine-game home winning streak (Rams finished the season at 7-5). Minnesota’s regular season opponents will play in the Rose Bowl (Iowa), Fiesta Bowl (Ohio State), Outback Bowl (Northwestern), Citrus Bowl (Michigan), Alamo Bowl (TCU), Holiday Bowl (Wisconsin), Foster Farms Bowl (Nebraska), Camellia Bowl (Ohio) and Arizona Bowl (Colorado State).
Central Michigan players to watch
1) Cooper Rush, quarterback: Central Michigan loves to throw the ball and that's on the right arm of junior quarterback Cooper Rush. The signal caller has averaged more than 300 yards a game passing and almost forty passing attempts a game this season and I expect that to continue as the Gophers look to get their starting defensive tackles back.
2) Jesse Kroll, wide receiver: Kroll is Rush's leading receiver on the season as he leads the Chippewas in both in receptions and receiving yards. He had his biggest games during the second half of the season as three times he had seven receptions with between 130 and 139 yards. Kroll is a big target at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, but he is skilled at getting in space and adding yards after the catch
3) Kavon Frazier, defensive back: Frazier is a ball hawk and finished ninth in the MAC in tackles this season with 104. His 69 unassisted tackles ranked him second. Frazier's going to play a big role in stopping the Gophers rushing and passing attack.
Keys to the game
1. Establish the run: Minnesota is averaging over 140 yards a game on the ground on the season, but issue is they've been inconsistent. Either it's gone very well, or not so good. Central Michigan is averaging only 138 yards on a game on the ground because of their lethal passing attack, so if Minnesota wants to control the tempo in this game, they have to have success on the ground early.
2. Stopping the pass: The Chippewas were second in the MAC in passing attempts per game at 38, so this Gopher secondary has to be ready. Quarterback Cooper Rush isn't a mobile quarterback at all, so Minnesota front seven can get some pressure early on, guys like Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun could have some interceptions on Saturday.
3. Big plays: I fully expect interim offensive coordinator Rob Reeves to be dialing up some trick play for the Gophers bowl game and maybe we even see a half-back pass or two. Especially in the bowl game, usually the game comes down to who actually wants to be there and who doesn't. With Central Michigan being able to stay in-state and play in a meaningful facility to them like Ford Field close to home, I'd be shocked if the Chippewas weren't ready. That means Minnesota can't expect them to lay down as they shouldn't, even though they are the favorites in this game. Big plays are going to go a long way toward showing what team is the one that wants it most.