Bowl prep paves the way for future Gophers
DEC 10, 2012 4:00a ET
Every bowl game can give its players gifts up to a certain dollar amount. Members of the Gophers and Texas Tech Raiders will receive a 32-inch flat-screen TV, a belt buckle (it is Texas, after all) and other items for playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. As a college kid, a free TV is hard to beat.
For the program itself, there's the perk of being on national television on Dec. 28. The meeting between Minnesota and Texas Tech will be aired on ESPN as the only bowl game that night, meaning anyone watching college football will be tuned into the Gophers and Red Raiders. That pays dividends in recruiting and helps the program get its name out there.
But while the TVs and the TV exposure are nice perks, they don't do much for Minnesota's immediate on-field benefit. Playing in a bowl game, however, means each team is allowed 15 additional practices to prepare. For a 6-6 Gophers team making strides from last year's 3-9 record, the value of those practices is immeasurable.
"It'll be great for the younger guys because they'll get 15 extra practices in and be able to progress their game," said fifth-year senior cornerback Troy Stoudermire. "It's great for them. I'm really excited for this young group of guys because they have progressed through the season. Getting an extra 15 practices is just like spring. All these guys can do is get better."
Indeed, Minnesota's 15 practices leading up to its bowl game later this month are perhaps just as beneficial as spring practices, which acclimates the team to the offense and defense -- and to each other -- before fall camp begins. The Gophers had their first bowl practice on Friday and will practice a total of 10 times at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex in Minneapolis before leaving for Houston. While there, Minnesota will get five more practices at an area high school in anticipation for the game on the 28th at Reliant Stadium.
The Gophers were given some time off after their loss to Michigan State at the end of the regular season on Nov. 24. For a team that has dealt with injuries all year, the break was an opportunity to get healthy again. But now that Minnesota is back on the field, second-year coach Jerry Kill is making the most of his team's practice time.
Kill runs bowl preparations for about an hour and 20 minutes of practice. Then, the veteran players hop on a bus to TCF Bank Stadium -- their locker rooms at the practice facility are being renovated, so they're using the ones at the state-of-the-art locker room at the stadium. While those players head back to the locker room, Minnesota's younger players stick around for some more instruction with the coaching staff.
"They go over and then we keep the younger players and we give them 20, 25 minutes of just specialty work," Kill said. "It's different. You kind of treat it a little bit like two-a-days, but we're only going one practice. But we're spending a lot of time with the younger players."
Redshirt senior linebacker Keanon Cooper remembers the benefit of those extra practices during his redshirt season in 2008. After coming to Minnesota from Skyline High School in Dallas, Cooper didn't play at all his first season. But he learned a lot when Minnesota prepared for the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
"That's basically when I learned the defense," Cooper said. "It's very important. (For) guys that are on scout team and really don't quite know the fundamentals and technique things, just knowing the defense is big. It's major for developing a program."
Kill has brought Minnesota back to a bowl game in just his second season at the helm after taking over for Tim Brewster. After a 3-9 record in both 2010 and 2011, the Gophers became bowl eligible this season for the first time since 2009. That means for the last two years, Minnesota didn't have these extra 15 practices late in the season.
Sure, not playing in a bowl means coaches can hit the recruiting trail earlier. But for a program still striving to compete with the top-tier Big Ten teams, these next few weeks are huge.
"It's critical because we've got a lot of other Big Ten schools just like us getting those 15 practices, and not everybody gets them," Kill said. "We talk about trying to get on some kind of even keel. It gives us the opportunity to be like everybody else in the Big Ten."
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