The Big Ten was supposed to get a team in to this anyway, it just so happened to be one with a losing record. Minnesota (5-7) had a strong enough Academic Progress Rate to earn a bowl appearance, but now it has to make the most of it against a Central Michigan (7-5) squad looking for a great win over a Big Ten team. Check out the Minnesota vs. Central Michigan prediction and Quick Lane Bowl game preview.
Minnesota vs. Central Michigan Game Preview
Date: Monday, December 28
Game Time: 5:00 pm ET
Venue: Ford Field, Detroit, MI
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Why You Need To Care
Yeah, Minnesota probably doesn’t deserve a bowl game, but it sure needs something positive after its strangely disappointing season.
This was supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding year, but after coming within a game of going to be the Big Ten title in 2014, the Gophers couldn’t get the running game going, there were tough losses to TCU, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa, head coach Jerry Kill had to retire, and after losing five of the last six games, there just hasn’t been a whole bunch of fun.
Also not fun – Minnesota in bowl games.
The Gophers have lost seven straight bowls after beating Alabama in the 2004 Music City, with five of those losses coming by four points or fewer. Those were rough, but losing to a midrange MAC team would really, really hurt.
Central Michigan has been entertaining, averaging 313 passing yards per game with a high-powered attack that puts up yards in chunks, while the defense has been every bit as strong allowing 328 yards per game. So what’s been the problem? Why the five losses? CMU lost a slew of heartbreakers to stronger teams.
The Chippewas pushed a NY6-bound Oklahoma State team in the opener, lost on the road to Syracuse in overtime, lost to Michigan State in a game far tougher than the 30-10 final score, lost 41-39 at Western Michigan, and lost 28-23 to Toledo – there wasn’t a cheap loss in the bunch.
This is a strong enough team to beat Minnesota and finish the year with its third bowl win in four years, losing last season’s epic Popeyes Bahamas Bowl in a wild 49-48 firefight. The last five bowl games CMU has been in were decided by a grand total of 13 points and all by three points or fewer.
Why Central Michigan Will Win
Minnesota’s middling offense will have a hard time scoring and won’t do too much through the air.
Central Michigan had to deal with some great quarterbacks in Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell, and only allowed one 300-yard passing game – Toledo – all season long. There weren’t a slew of picks coming from the CMU secondary, but there also weren’t a lot of big things happening deep. Minnesota can’t run and needs to throw efficiently to win – that’s going to be a problem.
CMU is also able to out-Minnesota, Minnesota. Last year the Gophers relied on David Cobb and the ground attack to grind out drives and keep the ball for over 31 minutes a game. This year, not so much, keeping it just 28:27 a game, mainly because the O struggled on third downs. CMU’s overall success ties into keeping the chains moving, ranking fifth in the nation in time of possession and keeping the defense off the field.
Why Minnesota Will Win
Minnesota’s running game might not be up to its normal snuff, but this might be the game it goes off.
The Central Michigan run defense has been terrific at times, allowing fewer than four yards per carry and not giving up more than 180 yards on the ground in any of the last six games. However, Northern Illinois was able to run well in its win back in early October, and Western Michigan came up with 215 yards with plenty of big pops. The CMU run defense stats are mostly decent because teams haven’t had time to run the ball – CMU’s time of possession comes into play – but those teams that could pound the ball were able to. Rested and ready, the Gopher ground game that started to step it up over the second half of the season should be able to use its O line to pound away. Given time to prepare, expect the Gophers to Big Ten up and run like they did against Illinois and Purdue, running for 255 and 326 yards, respectively.
Player Who Matters
Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush came up with a 493-yard, seven touchdown day in the epic Bahamas Bowl last year against WKU, and it all carried over to this season with eight 300-yard games, 25 touchdown passes, and a brilliant year overall keeping the chains moving. He threw ten picks, but he spread them out over ten games – he didn’t kill the team with a slew of big mistakes. Poised, experienced, and just mobile enough to not be a sitting duck, he’s not going to be fazed by going against a Big Ten team in a bowl game. He’ll keep the pressure on a good Minnesota secondary, and he’ll spread the ball around enough to keep the offense moving.
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner has taken his team by the horns after handing it off for the previous two seasons. This year he’s turned into more of a passing threat, but against CMU he’s going to need to go back to giving it to the backs. Shannon Brooks followed up a 174-yard, three score day against Illinois with eight yards on five carries against Wisconsin, while Rodney Smith is overdue to start getting some more work after running for 596 yards and two scores with his second touchdown of the year coming against the Badgers. Can the running game get into a lather? The Gophers are going to give it a try.
What’s Going To Happen?
Minnesota has the 15th-best pass defense in college football. The secondary was supposed to be the strength coming into the season, and it turned into being just that even against the better quarterbacks and good passing games. CMU will get a few big plays from Rush, but Minnesota will find the power and end the disappointing year on a major positive.
Minnesota vs. Central Michigan Prediction
Final Score: Minnesota 31, Central Michigan 21, Line: Minnesota -6, o/u: 56.5
Must See Rating: 5: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – 1: Property Brothers at Home on the Ranch … 3