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Quick Lane Bowl Preview: Minnesota vs. Central Michigan

When: Mon. Dec. 28; 5p.m. ET
Where: Detroit, MI; Ford Field (65,000)
TV: ESPN2
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: Minnesota won 30-10 (Sept. 26, 1987)
Line: Minnesota -6.5

1 Burning Question: What Will Change For Gophers? 

Minnesota had a lot of change happen this season, including a shock retirement of head coach Jerry Kill and interim head coach Tracy Claeys getting the full-time gig. He made changes this offseason, firing long-time offensive coordinator Matt Limegrower and this will be the first time we see the Gophers since that change.

With plenty of practice and film time to work on things, will the stagnant and stale Gophers offense look any different for this game? Not having a new offensive coordinator in place may mean same old, same old for a Gophers offense that was less than explosive in 2015. Claeys promoted Rob Reeves to offensive coordinator for the game only, so this could be his audition for the permanent role if things change too.

Let’s see if the Quick Lane bowl prep makes a difference in adding a wrinkle or two to what Minnesota does.

2 Reasons to Actually Watch:

— Mitch Leidner’s passing: The Gophers quarterback struggled a bit this season, but exploded in the passing game as the season went on. In fact, the Gophers QB passed for over 200 yards in five of eight Big Ten games this season, including a pair of 300-yard efforts. Some of his struggles have come from a nagging foot injury, and he’ll have surgery after this game. It may not always look pretty from Leidner, but his progression in the passing game will be something to watch in this contest.

— Drama, drama, drama: If you want close games, this could be a good place to look. CMU had eight of their games decided by a touchdown or less and Minnesota had six of those such games. Given the lack of running done by either team in 2015, look for this one to be close by the nature of inconsistent pass games.

3 Key Players:

— Jesse Kroll, CMU WR: Kroll is as dangerous a weapon on the outside as the Chippewas have to offer. He averaged 14.5 yards per catch and led the team with 59 receptions. If the Chips are going to steal this game away, look for Kroll’s matchup with a good Gopher secondary to be in his favor.

— Shannon Brooks, Minnesota RB: While it took awhile, there arguably wasn’t a better redshirt freshman running back in the Big Ten than Brooks was by the end of the season. He provided a ray of light to a horrific Gophers rushing game. He had just 104 carries, but led the team with 644 yards, seven touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. CMU’s defense wasn’t exactly amazing against the run and that could mean a chance for Brooks to continue to break out.

—Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota CB: The Chips threw the ball 465 times this season, and that was by design folks. It means the Gophers secondary will be tested and senior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun needs to be up the task. He was up to it most of the season, tying for the team lead with three interceptions and second with four pass break ups. Look for opportunities to exist for the senior to make a big impact in his final game.

4 Crazy Stats:

— 2-2: That is Central Michigan’s record in bowl games played at Ford Field. It won one Motor City Bowl (1-2 overall) and also took home the 2012 Little Caesar’s Bowl. Could it be an advantage to this school having played there more recently than the Gophers?

— 5: Not only is that the number of wins for the Gophers so far this season, but it also the number of AP Top 20-ranked teams (at the time they played) on the season. Minnesota has played No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 TCU, No. 8 Iowa, No. 15 Michigan and No. 16 Northwestern. Central Michigan is not that level in any respect.

— 66-19: That is the record of the seven teams Minnesota has lost to this season. Incredibly, should Michigan and Wisconsin win their bowl games, the Gophers would’ve faced six teams to win 10 games on the season. Perhaps that 5-7 overall record is a bit deceiving given that kind of insane schedule?

— 8: That is the number of 3rd-and-long conversions that have gone for over 20 yards on the season for CMU. It’s significant as the Chips had just two of those such plays happen in those situations. Overall CMU is 44 percent on 3rd down conversions, so look out if they are forced to pin their ears back and gain big chunks of yards on third down.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Minnesota 31-17 (88-25 overall; 56-55 ATS)
Dave: Minnesota 21-10 (92-21 overall; 61-49 ATS)
Greg: Central Michigan 27-23 (86-27 overall; 67-43 ATS)
Matt: Minnesota 28-20 (91-22 overall; 65-45 ATS)
Phil: Minnesota 24-17 (42-17 overall; 23-33 ATS) *joined in Week 5

6 Pack Suggestion (Because Beer and Bowl Games Are Your Best Friend): Surly Furious, Surly Brewing Co.

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It’s bad enough we are subjected to MACtion vs. the Big Ten to start the season, now you’ve got to sit through it to end the season too? Sure it is a bowl game to help you get through the time off from work, but watching this one could feel like work at times. Why not make yourself feel good by drinking one of the best beers on the face of this earth in the face of this potentially crap contest? Grabbing a 4-pack of Surly Furious and drinking a beer considered “world-class” by Beer Advocate can never be a bad thing.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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