This season has been a bit of a mess for Minnesota, but somehow they made it to a bowl Game with five wins and have to be feeling good about it. They’ll take on a feisty Central Michigan team that will have most of the fans at Detroit’s Ford Field for the Quick LAne Bowl. Still, the Gophers are a -5 point favorite at Betonline Sportsbook.
The Gophers finished with just two wins in Big Ten play, but they already beat two MAC teams this year and expect to make it a third. However, both of those MAC wins came at home and only by three points apiece. While they competed in a lot of Games (vs. TCU, vs. Michigan, at Iowa), they just didn’t have the offense to win them. Minny’s only two Conference wins came against Purdue and Illinois, two of the worst teams in the Big Ten.
Central played some big boys (OK State, Michigan State) early in the season, but didn’t have enough to pull those out. The Chippewas were 6-2 in MAC play, but their Schedule wasn’t the toughest and their only wins vs. winning teams came against Northern Illinois and Akron. Their two Conference losses came to Western Michigan and Toledo, although both in close Games.
The Chippewas lost a heartbreaker (49-48) last year in a classic Game in the Bahamas, but this year won’t be a vacation for them. Minnesota has a good defense, but is banged up and that hurt them down the stretch, giving up 31 points to Wisconsin and 40 to Iowa.
Central’s problem is that they cannot run the ball. The Chips average just 3.1 yards per carry as a team with Martez Walker leading the team with just 373 yards on the year (119 of those yards came in the season finale against Eastern Michigan). One thing going for them is quarterback Cooper Rush, who is still only in his junior season. He tossed for seven TDs in last year’s bowl Game and will look to do the same here. Without a ground Game, Rush has been impressive this season, completing 67.2% of his passes for 25 TDs and 10 INTs. He spreads the ball plenty and that should help against the Minnesota defense.
On the other end, CMU actually hasn’t been too bad. OUtside of the loss to Western, they have played quite well against good offenses. And conveniently, Minnesota does not have a good offense, scoring 24.6 points per Game.
The Gophers had a few good Games, but could never get anything going on a consistent basis. Quarterback Mitch Leidner supposedly took a step in the offseason, but that wasn’t seen in his numbers as he has just 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. With a lesser running Game, more pressure was put on his shoulders. Running backs Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith have had some good Games, but again, can’t do anything consistently. The Gophers will likely try and pound those two guys as much as possible between the tackles to overpower the smaller MAC team.
It’s not that Central is good, but a spread of more than three points just seems like too much for Minnesota, especially against a quarterback that can sling the ball.
The Chippewas have covered in five straight non-Conference Games and the over is 7-1-1 in their last nine Games against the Big Ten. The over is also 6-1 for the Gophers in their last seven on field turf. The Gophers have covered in five straight following a straight-up loss, and will hope to ride the last motivation from former coach Jerry Kill, who retired in the middle of the season.
Our Pick – Minnesota -5