By Kristie Rieken
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Minnesota will try to reach nine wins for the first time since 2003 and end a five-game bowl losing streak when the Gophers face Syracuse in the Texas Bowl on Friday.
It’s their second straight trip to this bowl after they lost to Texas Tech 34-31 last year after a late rally by the Red Raiders.
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill hopes the familiarity with Reliant Stadium will help his team.
“It certainly helps us manage,” he said. “You just don’t know when you’re playing one game, one shot. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and so forth. I’m always kind of a routine guy, so to speak. Certainly it doesn’t hurt any, that’s for sure.”
Quarterback Philip Nelson believes not just the location, but simply playing in a bowl game last season will make Minnesota better prepared this time.
“You definitely know what to expect now,” Nelson said. “I think the whole team has some good experience under their belt. We know what a bowl game is all about, and what it takes to come close, but now we just need to finish the job this year.”
Syracuse coach Scott Shafer joked that the game was “a good opportunity to play some football down in Texas where it might have been invented.”
Five things to know about the Texas Bowl:
GOPHERS QBs: Minnesota uses two quarterbacks in Nelson and Mitch Leidner. Nelson leads the team with 1,288 yards passing with nine touchdowns, and Leidner has thrown for 414 yards and another score. They also both like to run, with Leidner rushing for 383 yards and seven touchdowns and Nelson adding 350 yards with six scores.
“I think we both have done a great job of picking up the offense and being able to really process a lot of what the coaches want us to do,” Nelson said.
DUAL-THREAT HUNT: Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt is a threat to score through the air and on the ground. The sophomore has thrown for 1,450 yards and 10 touchdowns and ran for 426 yards and five scores. Hunt opened the season as a backup before earning the starting job for the third game after a bad start to the season by Drew Allen.
COBB’S HOMECOMING: Minnesota running back David Cobb is back in his home state for the Texas Bowl. Cobb went to high school in Killeen, Texas, which is about 190 miles from Houston. Cobb leads the Gophers with 219 carries for 1,111 yards, and he has scored seven touchdowns. He ranked sixth in the Big Ten in rushing and had six 100-yard games this season.
BANGED-UP SYRACUSE: Four Syracuse starters will miss the game with injuries: safety Durell Eskridge, tight end Beckett Wales, defensive back Keon Lyn, and kicker Ross Krautman. Eskridge has 78 tackles and leads the team with four interceptions.
MINNESOTA BOWL HISTORY: This will be Minnesota’s 16th bowl game, and its record is 5-10. The Gophers’ first appearance came in the 1961 Rose Bowl, and their first win was against UCLA in the 1962 Rose Bowl. They last won a bowl game when they beat Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl.
SYRACUSE BOWL HISTORY: Friday’s game will be the 25th bowl game for the Orange, and they have a 14-9-1 record. They would have one more bowl appearance but declined an invitation to the Rose Bowl in the 1914 season because they’d already been to the West Coast earlier that season. This is the second bowl trip to Texas for the Orange, who beat Texas 23-14 in the Cotton Bowl in the 1959 season to win the national championship. Syracuse has won four of its last five bowl games.