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2023 Quick Lane Bowl Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Bowling Green Falcons

Minnesota and Bowling Green meet in familiar territory for the first time since the historic 2021 upset.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Bowling Green at Western Michigan Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bowling Green Falcons made it to another bowl game, already locking up a winning season for the first time since 2015. BG looks to take another step forward as they did not win their bowl game last year... and would you believe that the Falcons are returning to Detroit again?

And now they’re set to take on a familiar foe in Minnesota... again?

The football overlords have a sense of humor in times like these; thankfully for all of us, this game could prove to be an intriguing one with two teams looking to prove something to their fanbases. The two teams set to play are on intriguing trajectories— both positive and negative— which could be on full display in the Lions’ Den.

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Tuesday, December 26th, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time
  • Network: ESPN (A valid cable subscription is required.)
  • Location: Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan
  • Betting Considerations: Minnesota favored by -3.5, with an over/under of 38.5, per DraftKings
  • All-time series: Series tied 2-2
  • Last meeting: September 25, 2021: Bowling Green 14, Minnesota 10
  • BG’s Last Bowl: 2022 Quick Lane Bowl, 24-19 loss to New Mexico State
  • Minnesota’s Last Bowl: 2022 Pinstripe Bowl, 28-20 win over Syracuse

What Happened Last Time?

Even though a bit of time has passed, why don’t we remember what happened the last time these two teams met. A late September game, that was also Minnesota’s homecoming, and the Falcons opened up as 31-point underdogs. Minnesota started the year at 2-1, while Bowling Green was 1-2. The Golden Gophers struck first with a 36-yard field goal from Matthew Trickett. In the second quarter Matt McDonald would take the score himself, and the Falcons would go into halftime up 7-3. Cole Kramer, named this year’s bowl starter by Fleck, would score the only Gopher touchdown to make it 10-7 Minnesota. Late in the third, McDonald would find the end zone again to make it 14-10 Bowling Green. Two late interceptions by Tanner Morgan would seal the game. The Falcons got their first win at Minnesota since 2007 in the old Metrodome.

The Gophers in Review

Wisconsin v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Golden Gophers had an… underwhelming 2023 to say the least. Former MAC head coach P.J. Fleck entered his sixth season at the helm of the Gophers. Minnesota started the year with a gritty 13-10 win over Nebraska. They would comfortably beat Eastern Michigan the next week. Minnesota would travel to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels. Drake Maye threw for 414 yards and two touchdowns to help North Carolina take down the Gophers 31-13. Minnesota traveled to Evanston to take on Northwestern. Minnesota was up 31-10 after three quarters, but allowed 21 unanswered points to the Wildcats, and eventually lost 37-34 in overtime. The Gophers defeated the Ragin’ Cajuns the next week 35-24. At this point they were 3-2 on the season.

Minnesota then took on eventual the eventual Big Ten champions. After cutting the lead to 10-3 after one, it was all Michigan, and lost 52-10. The next week, they took on Iowa in a defensive battle. The Gophers would win 12-10, after an Iowa punt return touchdown was called back for a fair catch. They would then defeat a struggling Michigan State the next week 27-12.

Sitting at 5-3, Minnesota seemed destined to earn a sixth win. They would take on Illinois, and lose a close battle 27-26. With not enough six-win teams, and having the highest academic progress rate (APR) among five-win teams, they earned a spot in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Here’s one big point we want to make: Despite the record, no one should overlook Minnesota at this point in the season.

Why? The Gophers are undefeated in bowl games under P.J. Fleck. Appearing in four bowl games with Fleck at the helm, Minnesota has won all four. In fact, dating back to 2015, they’ve won all six bowl games they’ve appeared in. We also want to note, this isn’t Minnesota’s first rodeo in the Quick Lane Bowl. In fact, this is their third since 2015. They won the 2015 edition under interim head coach Tracy Claeys, and the 2018 edition under Fleck.

Fleck, no stranger to MACtion, has been impressed with Scot Loeffler’s turnaround of the program, noting in the Quick Lane Bowl presser he had “a ton of respect for him and what he’s been able to do with his program, and all the improvements Bowling Green has made.” He also stated BG has gotten the best of this program in the past; the respect is certainly there.

The Falcons in Review

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Bowling Green at Western Michigan Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons looked to take another step forward in the rebuild. Coming off a 6-7 finish, which included their win against Toledo, and their Quick Lane Bowl loss against New Mexico State, the Falcons aimed to take their next step in the rebuild.

Bowling Green started off with eventual C-USA champion Liberty. In a game that saw 5 five Bowling Green interceptions, the Falcons managed to only lose 34-24. The Falcons then had their FCS week dominating on both sides of the ball to beat Eastern Illinois 38-15. The next week was against the eventual Big Ten champion Michigan. The Wolverine defense held Bowling Green to six points, but the Falcons did intercept three passes by J.J. McCarthy. However, in a game where they lost linebacker Demetrius Hardamon to a scary injury, the Falcons lost 31-6. The Falcons then had their homecoming. The crowd was great, BG’s band celebrated their 100th anniversary, and the Falcons were looking for their third straight homecoming win. It was anything but a happy homecoming game, as 211 yards of offense, and four turnovers sealed a 38-7 loss to the Ohio Bobcats.

How could Bowling Green get their season on the right flight plan? They were sitting at 1-3, with two tough opponents in their view. They traveled to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech. After falling behind 14-0 early, the Falcons dominated the game to fly the flag 38-27, securing BG’s second power five win under Scot Loeffler. Everyone felt good after that game, but inconsistency still rattled the Falcons as they lost to eventual MAC champion Miami the next week. Being shutout 27-0, and sitting at 2-4, Bowling Green would need another run like 2022 to make it into a bowl game.

The Falcons traveled to Buffalo. Not wanting to have another result like last year’s game, Bowling Green took care of business forcing five turnovers in a 24-14 win. The Falcons hosted the Zips for their last Saturday contest of the season. After falling behind 7-3 early, the Falcons figured it out by scoring 38 unanswered points to eventually win 41-14 and move to 4-4.

Midweek MACtion would start for Bowling Green the next week as they took on Ball State. After a back and forth battle, Ball State’s Jackson Courville missed the game-tying field goal as time expired, allowing Bowling Green to increase their win streak to three games. Bowling Green took on a struggling Kent State team the next week, and handled business 49-19. This four-game winning streak propelled Bowling Green into bowl eligibility for the second-straight year.

The Falcons then hosted their rival Toledo the next week. Could the 2023 Battle of I-75 live up to last year’s game? Yes. Bowling Green dominated Toledo in the first half, and led 28-10. However, everyone knew Toledo would not go away easily. Toledo would go on a 15-3 scoring run to get within six. Dequan Finn would eventually find Jacquez Stewart, who then found holes in the coverage to give the Rockets a 32-31 lead. BG would not get the lead back, and the Rockets would bring the Battle of I-75 back to Toledo.

After a gut punch the week before, would Bowling Green lock up a winning season at Western Michigan? Bowling Green once again found themselves in a dominating position over their opponent, leading 31-3 at halftime. Unlike the Toledo game, the Falcons defense held their opponent to seven second half points. Bowling Green locked up a winning season with their 34-10 victory over the Broncos.

What to Watch For

The big thing to watch for Minnesota is their offense. As mentioned previously, Cole Kramer is starting for the Gophers. Kramer only attempted one pass, and it was an interception. Kramer had a big play in the 2021 game, so it’ll be crucial for him to do more of the same in this meeting especially since it’s all in his hands.

Bowling Green needs to keep up on their defense, just like they have all year. If their defense plays well, the offense will have a chance to be great. Despite Jalen Huskey, their co-leader in interceptions, transferring away, they will have a good amount of core players on defense to keep up their level of play.