TEMPE, ARIZ.—Big Ten representative Minnesota and Big 12 representative Iowa State travel from the frigid Midwest to warmer conditions offered by Tempe, Arizona as participants of the Insight Bowl on December 31, 2009. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. PST and will be televised on the NFL Network. The game will be played at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium
The Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6, 3-5) are fast becoming semi-permanent residents of Arizona. This is the third Insight Bowl in four years for the Gophers. In 2006, Minnesota led the Texas Tech Red Raiders 38-7 with a quarter and a half remaining in the game. The Red Raiders then scored 31 unanswered points to force overtime. Texas Tech scored a winning touchdown in the extra period after Minnesota initially took the lead on a field goal. The Red Raiders defeated the Gophers 44-41 in the largest come-from-behind victory in modern bowl history. Last year, Minnesota was tied with Kansas after the first quarter, but couldn’t stop the Jayhawks from flying away with the game. Kansas defeated the Gophers 42-21.
The Iowa State Cyclones (6-6, 3-5) are making their first bowl appearance since 2005 and their tenth post-season bowl appearance overall. In the 2005 Houston Bowl against the TCU Horned Frogs, the Cyclones went into halftime down by a touchdown at 24-17. Things were looking anxious for Iowa State until Todd Blythe caught his second touchdown of the game, this one a 22-yard pass from quarterback Bret Meyer with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. The PAT was good and the Cyclones and Horned Frogs were tied. Unfortunately for Iowa State, they were unable to stop long-distance placekicker Peter LoCoco, who kicked what turned out to be the game-winning field goal from 44 yards out. Iowa State still had 5:25 left in the game to get into field position for a game-tying field goal, but was unable to do so. The Horned Frogs defeated the Cyclones 27-24.
Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster leads his Golden Gophers into Tempe surrounded by some controversy. Webster has been the subject of a coaching rumor; it was thought that he could be the next Kansas Jayhawks coach. Webster has steadfastly denied he is going anywhere. Webster still has two years left on his contract and could discuss an extension with athletic director Joel Maturi after the season is over. Also traveling to Tempe is a quarterback controversy. Although junior play-caller and three-year starter Adam Weber had led his team to team to back-to-back bowl games, Weber is not setting the Big 10 Conference on fire. Weber is stilled pegged as the starter for the Insight Bowl, but will have to improve on his performance if he wants to keep his starting job next year. Weber has thrown 14 interceptions and only 12 touchdowns this year, completing only 51 percent of his pass attempts for a quarterback rating of 113. He also has been sacked 36 times this year. In the last six games, Weber has completed less than 50 percent of his passes five of those games.
The Golden Gophers will be without offensive weapon Eric Decker. Decker, a senior, suffered a season-ending injury against Ohio State. Deck finished the year with 50 receptions for 758 yards and five touchdowns. Decker was named to the All-Big 10 offensive first-team. Some pro scouts had Decker drafting as high as sixth in the NFL Draft before the injury. Also making the All-Big 10 team as honorable mentions were senior linebackers Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence and senior defensive back Traye Simmons.
Iowa State, led by first-year head coach Paul Rhodes, started the season 5-3, including a 9-7 upset in the eighth game over Big 12 North Conference champions Nebraska. Unfortunately, the Cyclones averaged less than 15 points per game after that to finish the final fours games 1-3. The lone victory was a home game against Colorado (3-9, 2-6), which finished below Iowa State in the conference standings.
The Cyclones are led by junior quarterback Austen Arnaud. Arnaud’s numbers are only slightly better than Weber’s: 119.50 passer rating on 159-for-277 passing for 1799 yards. Arnaud has 13 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He is also the team’s second-leading rusher, having gained 485 yards on 126 rushes and seven touchdowns. Leading the team in rushing is 1000-yard runner Alexander Robinson. Robinson, also a junior, carried the ball 210 times for 1,058 yards and six touchdowns. Robinson is an AP All Big-12 honorable mention winner for both running back and all purpose. Blocking for Arnaud and Robinson is an offensive line centered on senior Reggie Stephens. Stephens was recently named to the AP All Big-12 first-team. Sophomore offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele was named to the second team.
Defensively for Iowa State, the team is lead by AP All Big-12 first-team linebacker Jesse Smith and AP All Big-12 honorable mention defensive back James Smith. According to school historians, this Cyclone defense held three opponents to under 10 points for the first time since 1965.