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Gophers will play Guaranteed Rate Bowl vs. West Virginia on Dec. 28

The Gophers were passed over within the Big Ten for better-known bowls and Southeastern Conference opponents; Penn State (7-5, 4-5) goes to the Outback Bowl to play Arkansas; Purdue (8-4, 6-3) heads to the Music City Bowl and will face Tennessee.

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Gophers are headed to the Valley of the Sun.

Minnesota accepted an invitation Sunday to play in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 28 at Chase Field in Phoenix. The Gophers (8-4, 6-3 Big Ten) will play West Virginia (6-6, 4-5 Big 12) in a game set to kickoff at 9:15 p.m. and air on ESPN.

“We are very honored to be in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl out there in Phoenix,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said in a news conference Sunday night. “… I know our alumni, our team, our families, our staff, our fans will have an absolute blast in the Phoenix area and the state of Arizona. We are very excited. Tremendous opponent.”

This is the first matchup between the two programs, but they had a common opponent in 2021. West Virginia lost 30-23 to Maryland in the season opener on Sept. 4, while Minnesota beat the Terrapins 34-16 on Oct. 23.

“We got a chance to watch them here and there because of the crossover with Maryland,” Fleck said. “… They play a very unique defense and present a lot of challenges and play incredibly hard. We’ve got our work cut out for us. We have to come up with the best game plan, organize our staff properly and do what we can be able to do.”

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Mountaineers coach Neal Brown was complimentary of Minnesota, in particular its top-25 defense and veteran offensive line that paved the way for five 100-yard rushers this season.

The Gophers were passed over within the Big Ten for better-known bowls and Southeastern Conference opponents; Penn State (7-5, 4-5) goes to the Outback Bowl to play Arkansas; Purdue (8-4, 6-3) heads to the Music City Bowl and will face Tennessee.

With the weather in Phoenix forecast to be warm and sunny later this month, Fleck joked about leaving early. “Seventy degrees plus, count us in anytime,” he said while on a recruiting visit. “Coming from Minnesota during the winters, we are very excited. Might even show up this week and start the training now.”

The Guaranteed Rate Bowl was formerly known as the Insight Bowl, and Minnesota lost in three appearances in that game in 2006, ’08, and ’09.

Minnesota is 2-0 in bowl games under Fleck. After not being eligible at 5-7 in 2017, Minnesota beat Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl in 2018, and then topped Auburn in the Outback Bowl after the 2019 season. The Gophers could have gone to a bowl with a 3-4 record in the pandemic-altered 2020 season but opted out last December.

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