Minnesota (6-6) vs. Iowa State (6-6)
Dec. 31, 6 p.m. (NFL Network)
Minnesota take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The Insight Bowl might not attract much national attention, but you can bet it'll mean a lot in the upper Midwest.
Minnesota and Iowa State haven't played since 1997, but the two schools are separated by only 215 miles and share a hated rival in the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa State makes its first bowl appearance since 2005, while Minnesota returns to the Insight Bowl for the second straight year and for the third time in the past four seasons.
This is a very critical game for Gophers fourth-year coach Tim Brewster and a team that broke even despite boasting the Big Ten's most experienced roster. A victory would secure consecutive winning seasons and build momentum for 2010, when Brewster's recruits will occupy most of the key roles. A loss would increase doubts about the program's direction and put Brewster squarely on the hot seat.
The Insight Bowl typically is high scoring, but don't expect too many points on Dec. 31 in Tempe, Ariz. Minnesota has been shut out twice this season and ranks 98th nationally in scoring (21.6 ppg), while Iowa State is even worse, coming in 102nd in scoring (21.1 ppg). Both teams have quarterbacks (Minnesota's Adam Weber, Iowa State's Austen Arnaud) who can do big things, but also hurt their teams with turnovers.
Defense is certainly Iowa State's calling card, as the Cyclones have held opponents to 17 points or fewer in each of their six wins. Minnesota also relies heavily on its defense, particularly linebackers Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence, but needs some offensive playmakers to emerge at Sun Devil Stadium.
Iowa State take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin:Insight Bowl officials jumped all over the Cyclones, picking them over teams with a better record.
The Cyclones were one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12, claiming six victories to earn a bowl berth under first-year coach Paul Rhoads. But a close examination reveals that they defeated only one team with a winning record all season -- a 9-7 triumph at Nebraska where they forced eight turnovers, including three inside the Cornhuskers' 5-yard line.
The Cyclones struggled offensively when quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson were injured. But, new defensive coordinator Wally Burnham helped craft a gritty defense that was smaller than most opponents, but overachieved and ranked 27th in turnover margin.
Meanwhile, the Gophers will be making their third Insight Bowl trip in the last four seasons – not exactly a mark of distinction among Big Ten teams.
Tim Brewster’s team limped home with four losses in its last six games and failed to score an offensive touchdown in its final two games. The Gophers never really recovered from the loss of standout wide receiver Eric Decker and ranked last in the Big Ten in offense. Their lack of offensive weapons should make this a relatively equal battle with the Gophers.
These two teams were early rivals, playing 22 times between 1895-1924, but have met only three times since then. It was in the 1923 game where Jack Trice sustained an injury that later took his life, becoming a iconic martyr whose spirit pervades Iowa State to this day. The Cyclones haven't beaten Minnesota since 1898.