Minnesota needs a miracle vs. Texas Tech.
The Golden Gophers are 13-point underdogs in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, according to ESPN, and they should be. The Big Ten team lost six out of its final eight regular-season games and only managed to score at least 20 points once over that period of time.
The Red Raiders put up 37.8 points per game. That’s a problem. For Minnesota to pull off the upset, here are its offensive stars who must shine.
4. Donnell Kirkwood
The Golden Gophers’ 5’10”, 216-pound sophomore running back must show up against Texas Tech.
He exploded for 130-plus-yard efforts in wins over Purdue and Illinois, but he was held to a total of just 30 rushing yards in the last two games of the regular season.
If the team’s leading rusher bounces back, it’ll be that much closer to shocking the Red Raiders.
3. Derrick Engel
Minnesota is a run-heavy football team, but it must make Texas Tech respect the pass. Now that the squad’s leading receiver A.J. Barker has transferred to Houston, Engel may be the only Golden Gopher wideout with the ability to do so.
He only has 14 receptions this season—no Minnesota receiver besides Barker even recorded 20—but he averages 19.1 yards per catch.
2. Philip Nelson
The freshman quarterback began his college football career with impressive performances against Wisconsin and Purdue. But in his last two games, he threw five interceptions and was completely useless.
John Brannen of the Pioneer Press reported that Nelson will share time at the position with senior MarQueis Gray. But either way, he can’t be the liability that he was against Nebraska and Michigan State if Minnesota wants to compete.
1. MarQueis Gray
Gray does it all for the Golden Gophers. He can throw, run and catch. And for them to shock Texas Tech, he must do that all well.
He’s been the most efficient of Minnesota’s three QBs this season. Gray has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5-2, a passer rating of 150.9 and an additional five scores on the ground.
He’s without a doubt the game’s ultimate X-factor.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.