Not everything’s bigger in Texas.
For the second straight season, the Gophers are going to the Big Ten’s bowl game with the smallest significance.
Minnesota (8-4) will face Syracuse in the Texas Bowl slated for Dec. 27 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
After the Gophers’ most successful season in 10 years, some speculated they could at last make it to a more prestigious January bowl game.
But those slots were filled by Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska.
“You can’t control any of that,” head coach Jerry Kill said of the selection process. “Our control is getting nine wins and winning
a bowl game ... [and] whoever gives us the opportunity to do that, we’re excited about it.”
Minnesota won two more regular-season games than last year, but Kill said remaining in the same bowl isn’t necessarily a step back.
The Gophers had a favorable draw last year because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for bowls.
“We keep moving up,” Kill said.
While some fans seemed disappointed with the draw, playing in Houston for the second straight year could offer Minnesota a level of comfort.
Gophers senior defensive back Brock Vereen said it’s an advantage that Syracuse won’t have.
“We’ve been in that city, we practiced at that high school field, we’ve played in that stadium,” Vereen said.
There are also 12 players on the Gophers’ roster that hail from Texas, including junior running back David Cobb. Cobb grew up in Killeen, Texas, 196 miles from Houston.
Cobb said he expects that he and his cousin on the team — junior linebacker Damien Wilson — will have family in attendance.
“I’ll be ready to play in front of the home crowd and my family,” Cobb said. “I’m pretty sure between me and Damien, we’ll have a pretty good home crowd.”
While Syracuse won’t be as familiar with Houston as the Gophers, it will be familiar with Minnesota’s coaching staff.
Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer was a defensive coordinator at Northern Illinois from 1996-2003, before Kill became head coach of Northern Illinois in 2008.
While Shafer was at Northern Illinois, Kill was coaching at Southern Illinois.
“He’s familiar with us because we’ve known him, and we’re familiar with coach [Schafer],” Kill said. “That makes it interesting.”
A few weeks ago, Minnesota was still in contention for the Rose Bowl and was projected to have its season culminate in a prestigious bowl.
But after tough losses to ranked Wisconsin and Michigan State, the Gophers weren’t appealing enough to go to a January bowl game.
“If people feel that way, then we can go into this game with a chip on our shoulder,” Vereen said, “[and] make sure that people know next year ... this team is to be taken seriously.”