Before we get to the what, where, why, how and what-it-all-means, here's the when: Yes, Cal is traveling to Minnesota on Thursday. Bears coach Jeff Tedford isn't convinced that flying to Maryland the day before a 9 a.m. kickoff (Pacific time) last September was the reason Cal gave up three touchdowns in the first 16 minutes and lost 35-27. "But I don't want to be bullheaded about it either," said Tedford, who is 5-0 against the Big Ten during his tenure in Berkeley (average margin of victory: 16 points).
The Bears should handle Minnesota regardless of kickoff time, heat, humidity, playing surface, venue or mosquito size. But this is not the time or the season to leave anything to chance. The Bears have two paths to the Bowl Championship Series. If they win the Pacific-10 Conference title, they're in — either the Rose Bowl or the National Too-Early-to-Talk-About Game.
But let's say they don't. Let's say they finish a game behind USC (like in 2004) or tie the Trojans but lose the head-to-head matchup (2006). In that case, the Bears would be eligible for the BCS as an at-large team if they have won at least nine games and are in the top 14 of the final standings. At that point, as one of a handful of teams in the at-large pool, the victory total matters: Eleven-win teams generally are considered more attractive than 10-win teams, 10-win teams more attractive than nine-win teams. (The BCS ranking matters, too, but that usually correlates to the win total.)
Which brings us back to the Minnesota game. A victory would give the Bears a 3-0 non-conference record, meaning they could go 7-2 in league play and still be a viable candidate in the at-large pool.
But a loss to the Golden Gophers would eliminate the Bears' margin for error, forcing them to survive the Pac-10 season with one loss. Under this scenario — finishing second to USC and losing at Minnesota — the Bears would have to beat everyone in the conference except the Trojans to have any chance for an at-large bid. Given that, maybe they should have flown to Minneapolis on Monday.