Gophers going bowling despite 5-7 regular season record

Head coach P. J. Fleck of the Minnesota Golden Gophers huddles with his team during their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Memorial Stadium on September 16, 2023 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Getty Images)

One of the more disappointing seasons for the University of Minnesota football team in recent memory came to a close on Saturday in a 28-14 loss to Wisconsin at Huntington Bank Stadium.

The Gophers finished 5-7, went 0-4 in the month of November and were just 3-6 in Big Ten play. Yet another year where P.J. Fleck and company could not take advantage of a Big Ten West Division that was there for the taking. But the Gophers are going bowling, despite their first sub-.500 season since Fleck’s arrival in 2017.

That’s because Minnesota’s players did well in the classroom. There were 79 FBS teams that reached at least six wins to earn bowl eligibility. James Madison and Jacksonville State got bids. Hawaii beat Colorado State with a walk-off field goal very late Saturday night, which sent Minnesota to bowl eligibility. That’s because there was one spot left, and the Gophers had the highest academic progress rate of teams that hadn’t earned bowl eligibility yet.

Fleck made it very clear Saturday night before the Gophers knew they would be eligible that if they got an invite, it would be accepted.

"It’s more a decision for (Gophers AD) Mark Coyle, but I think we’re on the same page. We’ll always accept a bowl bid. Always, there’s so many beneficial things to a bowl game. This is why it’s a life program, when you get put in positions like this, the APR matters," Fleck said. "Your academic progress rate matters, we’re a life program and the academics will always matter here. That could give you an opportunity to get another bowl game, we’d be honored."

After what Coyle said to KFAN before Saturday’s game, it appears they are on the same page.

"I can't tell you how important it is what our fans have done the past several years in buying tickets to bowl games," Coyle said. "It's huge for us. We have a great reputation that we travel now."

A bowl game means 15 more practices for the Gophers, more revenue for the athletic department and one more chance for this team to be on the field together. Players were devastated after losing to the Badgers in a season that fell well short of expectations. Now, they get one more chance.

Who will they play? We'll find out Sunday, when bowl games are announced after conference titles are decided on Saturday. There is a chance that Fleck and the Gophers could play Jerry Kill and New Mexico State.