Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6 Overall; 2-6 Big Ten)
Minnesota returns to its first bowl game since the 2009 Insight Bowl, and it's looking to win its first bowl since beating Alabama -- of all teams -- 20-16 in the 2004 Music City Bowl. It's hard to say that Minnesota didn't improve in Jerry Kill's second season with the program -- the Gophers went from 3-9 in 2011 to 6-6 in 2012 -- but four of those wins came outside the Big Ten. Minnesota went 2-6 in conference play for the second straight season and scored more than 17 points only once in Big Ten play. An indication that, while Minnesota might be on the right path under Kill, it still has a ways to go.
At their best. The highlight of the 2012 season for the Gophers was a 17-10 win over Syracuse at TCF Bank Stadium in late September. The game was also a harbinger of things to come for Minnesota as its offense struggled, managing only 17 points. However, the Gopher defense held Syracuse to only 350 yards of offense and forced four turnovers while holding the Orange to three points for the first 59 minutes of action. Syracuse scored a touchdown in the final minute to make the score closer, but the win helped Minnesota improve to 4-0 and proved to be a key victory toward gaining bowl eligibility.
At their worst. Conference play once again proved to be a hurdle that the Gophers could not overcome. Their only two wins inside the Big Ten came against Purdue and Illinois. In games against Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State, the Gophers were 0-6. They lost by an average score of 32-13 with only one loss being less than double digits. Three were by 20 or more points.
Headliner. Considering the pass-happy offense that Minnesota will be facing, the Gophers would be wise to bring the pass rush to Reliant Stadium on Friday night. That's where defensive end D.L. Wilhite comes in. Minnesota's defense wasn't great, but it finished in the top 40 in total defense, scoring defense and yards per play this season. Wilhite was a big reason why. The senior finished the season with only 30 tackles but with 11.5 of those being for a loss and another 8.5 being sacks.
Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5 Overall; 4-5 Big 12)
Texas Tech was caught offguard when Tommy Tuberville literally dined and dashed from Lubbock to take the head coaching job at Cincinnati, but I don't think there are a lot of hard feelings since Tubs will be replaced by Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury will not be coaching in this game, however, as Chris Thomsen will be in charge of a team that finished second in the nation with 361.9 yards passing per game and scoring 37.8 points per game. The Red Raiders missed out on a bowl in 2011; before that, they had been to a bowl in 11 straight seasons.
At their best. One of the more memorable games of the college football season, not just the Texas Tech season, was Tech's 56-53 win at TCU in triple overtime on Oct. 20. Tech was amazingly out-gained 516-389 in that game, but it did not matter. Quarterback Seth Doege threw for 318 yards and seven touchdowns, including the game winner to Alex Torres in the third overtime to end the game. That win moved Texas Tech to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big 12, pushing the Raiders as high as No. 15 in the AP Poll.
At their worst. Unfortunately for Texas Tech, things didn't go nearly as well following that game. The Raiders lost four of their last five with the lone win being an overtime victory against a Kansas team that finished 1-11 overall and 0-9 in the Big 12. However, the ugliest loss came to Kansas State the week after the TCU win. The Raiders hung around during the first half, heading to the locker room trailing only 13-10 and very much in the game, but the Wildcats romped in the second half. Kansas State outscored Tech 42-14 in the second half as Collin Klein finished with four touchdowns and seemed on his way to a Heisman Trophy.
Headliner. As Doege goes, so goes the Texas Tech offense. After having a strong first season as a starter in 2011, the senior got even better in 2012. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes this season and threw 38 touchdowns with only 14 interceptions. Should Doege throw for 66 yards in this game -- and it's safe to say he will -- he will become the first Texas Tech quarterback to throw for at least 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons since Graham Harrell did it in 2008. This game will also be Doege's last game to impress NFL scouts, as he's currently projected to be a seventh-round draft pick this spring.
What: Meineke Car Care Bowl
When: Friday, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston
Weird: This is not the first time that these teams have met in a bowl game. The 2006 Insight Bowl saw Minnesota build a 38-7 lead in the third quarter. Texas Tech came back to win 44-41 in overtime, completing the biggest comeback in bowl game history.
Line: Texas Tech -13
Prediction: While Minnesota's defense has been above average all season and it has a good pass rush, it's not good enough to slow down Texas Tech as much as it will need to win. Minnesota's offense just hasn't proven potent enough to keep up with an offense as explosive as Texas Tech's, and it won't do so Friday night, either. Guns up.
Texas Tech 38, Minnesota 20