Alamo Bowl officials admit attendance a factor

As the Gophers begin preparations for meeting Oregon in the Sun Bowl Dec. 31, Alamo Bowl officials have admitted that the Gophers' lack of "traveling" fans played a big part in not being selected. Read about their comments and the matchups to watch in the Sun Bowl.

The Gophers are just starting to prepare for Oregon, their opponent in the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl. They very much wanted an invitation to the cross-state Alamo Bowl, but that never came about despite a massive campaign by athletic director Joel Maturi.

The Gophers, after all, had a better regular season record than the Spartans — 9-3 vs. 8-4. However, Michigan State won the regular season matchup — at the Metrodome — and "travels" better than the Golden Gophers. Alamo Bowl officials considered that factor as they made their decision to invited the Spartans.

"There's no doubt that has an impact," Alamo Bowl executive director Derrick Fox told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

"I think especially as more time goes on, the more you start looking at all the different things. When you look at 74,000 vs. 44,000 home attendance and you look at past track record in travel to bowl games, there's no doubt those things weighed in."

Fox tried to compliment the effort Minnesota made to get the invitation and praised the team's effort this season, but he and his committee felt Michigan State offered the best chance to boost attendance and ratings.

"Obviously as things move forward and the [Gophers] program continues to generate enhanced attendance that will only help," Fox said. "You always hear the saying that the team qualifies for a bowl game and fan support helps dictate where they go."

While Maturi is still stinging from the defeat, head coach Glen Mason has to prepare his team for the Ducks. Minnesota will try to use its powerful and diverse offense to dictate the pace of this game and force the action, but Oregon might not go silently into the night.

The Ducks closed the season with three consecutive wins — over California, UCLA and Oregon State — to finish with an 8-4 record, including one very big victory over Michigan.

BY THE NUMBERS: 39.2 — The Gophers led the Big Ten in scoring during the regular season by averaging 39.2 points per game — 1.9 ppg better than second place Michigan.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Minnesota 42, Northwestern 17 — At the time, this was, well, just a win over Northwestern. But the Wildcats turned out to be a bowl team and they came out fired up against Minnesota and jumped to an early two-TD lead. Minnesota had to come from behind and Northwestern was loading up against Minnesota's powerful running attack. QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq threw for 331 yards and four TDs — including two of 80 yards or more to WR Jared Ellerson.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RBs Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney vs. Oregon LBs, led by Kevin Mitchell — Barber (1,190 yards and 17 TDs) and Maroney (990 yards and nine TDs) combine power and speed to form a dominant ground attack. Mitchell led the Ducks in tackles and can go sideline-to-sideline to make plays.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never blamed the fans. I feel bad if that is the perception. But we know it's going to come down to the number of people that travel. ... The bottom line is we don't have that history of traveling well." — Minnesota AD Joel Maturi to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

BOWL AT A GLANCE: Minnesota vs. Oregon, Sun Bowl, El Paso, Dec. 31

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Marion Barber — Barber bounced back from a redshirt season to emerge as the go-to back for most of the season. He combines power and speed and showed that he was the Gophers' best back in a group that included Laurence Maroney, Terry Jackson and Thomas Tapeh.

QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq — One of the most underrated passers in the country. While he does not have classic form throwing the ball, Abdul-Khaliq understands the nuances of the position and is effective. He completed 146-of-229 passes for 2,229 yards with 17 TDs and five interceptions. He also ran for 341 yards and four TDs.

PRO POTENTIAL: TE Ben Utecht — Has been one of the top TEs in the college game for a couple of years and should be among the top five tight ends taken in this spring's draft.

LB Ben West — Don't count West out of any play. He had 86 tackles and three sacks and is extremely athletic. At 6-1 and 240, West has good size for the LB spot and has the potential to get even stronger.

FB Thomas Tapeh — If the pros want a fullback who can accept his role and also handle some turns at tailback, then Tapeh could be the guy.

INJURY IMPACT: TE Ben Utecht has a muscle pull in his stomach, but he should be able to line up against Oregon.

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