MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team, having moved on from losing 38-17 to Wisconsin in its regular season finale, got back together on Sunday after a week off for practice.
P.J. Fleck and the Gophers knew they were headed to a bowl game, and likely a Jan. 1, 2020 match-up. They just didn't yet know which bowl, where it would be or who the opponent was. The Gophers were practicing Sunday when the bowl schedule was announced, and Fleck had to briefly stop practice.
The Gophers (10-2) are headed to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and will face Auburn (9-3), ranked No. 12 in the College Football Playoff and one of the traditional powers of the SEC.
A New Year's Day bowl game against a program rich in tradition in the SEC in sunny Florida in January. It's a safe bet fans will travel.
That's quite the change from beating Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit just after Christmas last year.
"I think that level changes and the expectation changes and the competition changes, and I think that’s very healthy for your program. We’ve just got to find a way to be the best we can be on January 1," Fleck said.
Gophers players didn't waste much time in moving on from losing to their biggest rival on Senior Day. The Gophers dropped 10 spots to No. 18 in the College Football Playoff rankings, and they'll be underdogs against Auburn.
Several Gopher players watched Saturday night as Wisconsin took an early 14-0 lead on Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers had a 21-7 halftime lead before losing to the Buckeyes 34-21. Ohio State is the No. 2 seed for the College Football Playoff, while Wisconsin will face Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
"Watching that game, we want to do whatever we can to be there next year. But for now we’re going to do everything we can to be 1-0 in the Outback Bowl championship season against Auburn," quarterback Tanner Morgan said.
Fleck led the Gophers to their first 10-win season since 1905. Minnesota also won seven Big Ten games for the first time in program history. They're playing in their first Jan. 1 bowl game since 2015, when they lost to Missouri in the Citrus Bowl.
Auburn started the season 5-0 before losing at Florida. The Tigers also lost at LSU and at Georgia to finish the season 9-3. Their signature win this season came in their last game, a 48-45 home win over Alabama that eliminated any shot the Crimson Tide had of being in contention for the College Football Playoff.
"You don’t beat Alabama if you’re not a really good football team. It’s Auburn, SEC football, SEC blue blood and it’s really exciting for us to get a chance to play a program like that," Morgan said.
The Gophers have already started watching film on the Tigers.
"We know they’re going to come out and put their best foot forward when they play us, so we decided why not watch one of the best games they played?" senior defensive lineman Winston DeLattiboudere said.