Dallas Colleges: Max Shortell
WHO TO WATCH: Texas Tech receivers Eric Ward and Darrin Moore. They are big targets in the red zone and caught 24 of quarterback Seth Doege's 38 touchdowns this season. Only two other teams have two receivers with double-digit touchdown catches. Tech's offense runs as Doege, Ward and Moore run. Additionally, tight end Jace Amaro has been cleared to play after missing the final six games of the season with a rib injury. He adds another dangerous asset to Texas Tech's offense, which ranked 12th nationally this year. West Virginia's Geno Smith is the only quarterback with more touchdown passes than Doege.
WHAT TO WATCH: Can Minnesota compete? The two-touchdown line is one of the largest of the bowl season, but the Golden Gophers will have an opportunity to log their best win of the season since knocking off 7-5 Syracuse back on Sept. 22. The Golden Gophers lost three of their final four games of the season -- all by at least 16 points -- but all three losses came to bowl teams. Also, how will both teams handle the loss of big contributors -- wide receiver A.J. Barker (transfer) for Minnesota and cornerback Cornelius Douglas (suspension) for Texas Tech?
WHY TO WATCH: You might find a piece of the answer to the eternal question of how important quarterback play is. Tech's Doege has had his share of struggles, but he has been the guy all season for the Red Raiders and racked up 3,934 passing yards and is 12th nationally in passer rating. Minnesota, meanwhile, has played musical chairs with its quarterbacks all season long and sophomore Max Shortell was frustrated enough to transfer. Philip Nelson will get the start for Minnesota, but will he stay there? Texas Tech fans also can tune in to see how much screen time new coach Kliff Kingsbury gets during the game.
PREDICTION: Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 17. I don't think the Gophers can keep up with the speed and efficiency of Texas Tech's offense. The Red Raiders will have some defensive issues of their own, too, even though Minnesota ranks 111th nationally in total offense. Too much Red Raiders, though. Amaro returns in a big way, and Moore is a pest in the red zone for the Golden Gophers.
Bonus picks! Here's what Big Ten colleagues Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett have to say by way of a prediction:
Brian Bennett: The Red Raiders have an interim coach, and Minnesota has had a month to heal the many injuries that ravaged its offense late in the season, both of which are positives for the Gophers. I think Matt Limegrover will find some creative ways to use MarQueis Gray. Still, Minnesota lacks the weapons to go up and down the field against a high-scoring Big 12 team. Michael Carter and the Gophers' secondary will make some plays but not enough to stop Texas Tech, which pulls away after a close first two-and-half quarters. ...Texas Tech 31, Minnesota 17.
Adam Rittenberg: The Gophers' defense is much improved in Year 2 under Tracy Claeys, but you need a decent amount of offensive firepower to keep pace with Texas Tech. Like you, my concern is the lack of playmakers surrounding Nelson and Gray. Both men will see time at quarterback and help the Gophers take a first-half lead, but a Minnesota turnover changes the game and Texas Tech strikes for two fourth-quarter passing touchdowns to win. ... Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 21
As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.
MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL OF TEXAS
Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Minnesota (6-6)
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas.
When: Friday, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET
About Texas Tech: Texas Tech could use a little good news. It's kind of been all bad lately. A promising season began at 6-1 and had more than a few Red Raiders dreaming of Big 12 title trophies. Then Kansas State delivered a systematic beatdown and Tech lost four of its final five games, the lone win coming at home in overtime against 1-11 Kansas. Then coach Tommy Tuberville left to take the head coaching job at Cincinnati, and OC Neal Brown followed him out the door to take the same job at Kentucky. The best news over that span? Texas Tech's bowl opponent is Minnesota. Let's look at these Gophers.
About Minnesota: Coach Jerry Kill is just 9-15 in two seasons as Minnesota coach, and this year's team doesn't have a win in Big Ten play over a team that's better than .500. One came over 6-6 Purdue and the other was over Illinois, who went winless in league play. All four losses in the final six games came by at least 16 points in a weak Big Ten that struggled in nonconference play. The Gophers improved this season to reach their first bowl game since 2009, but the Gophers haven't been to a bowl game that wasn't the Insight Bowl since way back in 2005.
Red Raiders to watch: Receiver Darrin Moore is the team's most talented player, but Seth Doege makes the offense go. If he has a good day, Tech can beat almost anyone. If he struggles, fans will be wondering if the Michael Brewer Era can get started a little early. Defensively, keep an eye on Kerry Hyder along the defensive line. He's been a huge help in revitalizing the nation's worst rush defense from a year ago, but safety Cody Davis is a playmaker and a scholar in the secondary.
Golden Gophers to watch: The Gophers' best player, A.J. Barker left the team and transferred to Houston recently, but sophomore Donnell Kirkwood added 848 yards on the ground to lead the team and scored five touchdowns. Barker's absence will be felt. Despite playing just eight games, he still leads the team in receiving by more than 300 yards and caught a team-high seven scores. There's been a revolving door at QB for the Gophers, which hasn't helped the receivers. Senior MarQueis Gray had a disappointing season, and Phillip Nelson took over to end the season after Max Shortell didn't make a huge impact and chose to transfer. Defensive end D.L. White may help pressure Doege. He was second in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks.
Did you know: This game is loaded with fun facts, though the first isn't so fun. The 13-point line in this game (Texas Tech is the favorite) is one of the highest of the bowl season, muddled in the middle of some of the highest. Oklahoma State vs. Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl is the highest, but depending on who you ask, Tech vs. Minnesota is No. 2. These two already played a classic in the 2006 Insight Bowl, when Texas Tech rallied from a 38-7, third-quarter deficit and outscored Minnesota 24-0 in the fourth quarter of a 44-41 overtime win that resulted in Golden Gophers' coach Glen Mason getting fired.
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