PULLMAN – Washington State will face Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27, San Diego Bowl Games announced on Sunday afternoon, capping a week of lobbying by athletic director Bill Moos to ensure No. 18 Stanford was not invited instead.
“I started to really target it after the Apple Cup when we knew we would not be in the Rose Bowl,” Moos said during a teleconference on Sunday. “Though we had interest from the Alamo Bowl I felt that was probably a long shot, and would necessitate some dominos falling a different way than they did.”
He added, “I really felt all along that we were probably their top pick but they really did not show their cards all the way until today.”
The matchup pits WSU (8-4, 7-2 Pac-12) against Minnesota (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) for the fifth time in school history and the first time since the Cougars’ 41-9 win in 1988.
While the Cougars lost their last two games of the regular season, to UW and at No. 10 Colorado, WSU beat Stanford handily earlier this season. The Holiday Bowl reps were also convinced that Cougars fans would travel well and that the country’s second-most prolific passing offense would be a television draw.
Once No. 4 Washington was selected to play in the Peach Bowl against No. 1 Alabama in the first round of the College Football Playoff, it became apparent that the Holiday Bowl would choose between 18th-ranked Stanford and unranked WSU.
“I like all bowl games,” Cougars coach Mike Leach said. “The Holiday Bowl is one of my favorites. I’ve never been to a bad bowl game, but we had a great experience in the bowl game when I was at Texas Tech.”
The Cougars last played in the Holiday Bowl in 2003, when WSU defeated No. 5 Texas 28-20. Moos noted that WSU sold 13,000 tickets to that game, and said he is confident the Cougars will need to request more than their current allotment of 7,000 tickets.
Minnesota is a familiar bowl opponent for Leach. His Texas Tech team played the Gophers in the 2006 Insight Bowl and completed the largest comeback in FBS bowl history.
The Red Raiders trailed 38-7 at halftime, but outscored the Gophers 24-0 in the fourth quarter and won in overtime. Former WSU receivers coach Graham Harrell was the offensive MVP of that game and current director of football operations Antonio Huffman was the defensive MVP.
“It was a very wild game,” Leach said. “They destroyed us the first half and we destroyed them the second half.”
Leach said the Cougars will initially utilize their bowl practices to get extra work for younger and inexperienced players, then start prepping for UM about a week before the game.