MIAMI -- Two months ago, Minnesota and North Carolina State gunned for big seasons and even bigger bowls.
But neither team reached those lofty goals and wound up in Thursday night's Micronpc.com Bowl, which is playing a distant second fiddle here to next week's national championship matchup between Oklahoma and Florida State.
"Don't tell those players from Minnesota or North Carolina State that this bowl doesn't have any significance," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said. "If you want to say that this is the preliminary and the Orange Bowl is the main event, that's all well and good."
Both teams had reason to think breakout seasons could be on the horizon following games on Oct. 14.
The Golden Gophers won at Ohio State for the first time since 1949 and were 5-2. The Wolfpack reached 5-1 after beating archrival North Carolina for the first time in seven seasons.
However, the two teams combined to go 3-6 down the stretch. In fact, Minnesota (6-5) needed 15 points over the final 7:43 against Iowa in the regular-season finale just to get into the postseason.
"After we had beaten Ohio State the headlines in the local paper said: `Gophers Are Smelling Roses,"' Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "I said, `Oh my god.' Our kids read that stuff and they started thinking about that stuff and maybe we started thinking we were better than we were.
"We almost crashed and burned. If we hadn't come back in that Iowa game there might have been another head coach losing his job. It was a roller coaster ride," Mason added. "We got off to a kind of an underachieving start, then played some good, sound football and positioned ourselves to make something great happen. But we self-destructed."
The Wolfpack (7-4) had a thin roster entering Amato's first season in Raleigh, N.C., then began wearing down in the later stages of the year.
"We started off good and we lost some games and then all of the sudden there's a problem," Amato said. "If you start off slow and then win some games do they ever say there's a problem?'
"It was funny going out recruiting and people would say, `Gosh, you guys started out awesome and then you ran out of gas, didn't you?"' Amato said. "You can call it gas, you can call it players, you call it whatever you want to. We also ran into some awfully good football teams."
Despite a lack of interest nationally in the game, both coaches believe the postseason game serves a purpose for each school.
The Golden Gophers were the worst program in the Big Ten for a decade. Now, Mason has led the team to two straight bowl games for the first time since 1985-86.
"Only four Big Ten teams have gone to bowl games the last two years and let me tell you Ohio State isn't one of them, Penn State is not one of them, Michigan State is not one of them, Illinois is not one of them and Northwestern is not one of them," Mason said.
"Can you believe Minnesota is one of them? I'm not going to discount that. We're very proud of our accomplishment."
Meanwhile, Amato, a former assistant under Bobby Bowden at Florida State for almost two decades, has used his time in Florida to hit recruiting areas hard and continue relationships he built while with the Seminoles.
He has gotten two verbal commitments from top prospects in South Florida and vows to battle Florida State for the Atlantic Coast Conference title in the near future.
"If I am in that room and that word (Seminoles) comes up I know I'm in the right room because then we've evaluated the talent properly," Amato said.
Mason then jabbed back at Amato.
"I don't think they even let me in that room."
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