PULLMAN — Washington State will get a mulligan in the Holiday Bowl after all.
One year after suffering a humiliating 17-12 loss to a depleted Minnesota team, the Cougars will return to San Diego this bowl season for a matchup against the Big Ten Conference.
The 2017 Holiday Bowl will pit No. 21 WSU against No. 18 Michigan State on Dec. 28 at SDCCU Stadium — formerly Qualcomm Stadium.
“It’s such a wonderful destination for our team,” WSU interim athletic director John Johnson said Sunday. “It’s a terrific bowl for our fans, it’s easy to get to. Last year, we had great attendance and look for that in the future as we get ready for this bowl game.”
It’s rare that a non-New Year’s Six Bowl will select the same team two years in a row, but Johnson said Holiday Bowl committee members once again found the Cougars to be an attractive draw.
WSU won nine games in the regular season for the first time under Mike Leach and beat both of the teams that appeared in the Pac-12 championship — USC and Stanford. The Cougars beat another conference champ, Boise State, in a triple-overtime thriller the second week of the season.
“They liked Washington State as a matchup and we pulled up a spot because of what went on within the league,” Johnson said. “… Typically you don’t see teams go back-to-back to bowls, unless it’s a championship like a Rose Bowl. I think it’s a tribute to our fans and our program.”
WSU sold just under 7,000 tickets for the 2016 Holiday Bowl, Johnson said, and the school will have a similar allotment for this year’s game. The Holiday Bowl announced a crowd of 48,704 last season.
“We had a great year, had some terrific games and we’re exciting to watch,” Johnson said. “Our fans are as much or more excited to go to the bowl as they were last year.”
Most speculated that the Cougars would be making their debut in the Foster Farms Bowl. That changed when Washington checked in at No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings and secured a bid to the Fiesta Bowl, bumping up every other team in the Pac-12.
The Alamo Bowl picked up Stanford (9-4) — No. 13 in the CFP rankings — to play TCU (10-3).
Michigan State finished third in the East division of the Big Ten and like WSU, heads into the bowl game with a 9-3 record. The Spartans lost games against Notre Dame, Northwestern and Ohio State.
Michigan State (9-3, Big Ten) vs. Washington State (9-3, Pac-12), Dec. 28, 6 p.m.
LOCATION: San Diego
Michigan State: C Brian Allen, named second-team All-Big Ten by coaches and media.
Washington State: RB Jamal Morrow, 522 yards rushing, 479 receiving.
Michigan State: The Spartans completely reversed last season’s 3-9 record with a young team that wasn’t expected to do much. WR Felton Davis has 51 catches for 658 yards and eight TDs.
Washington State: The Cougars were the only Pac-12 team to beat conference champ Southern California this year. Washington State has scored at least 30 points eight times.
Washington State 23, Michigan State 21. (Sept. 17, 1977)
Michigan State: First appearance in Holiday Bowl, 10th bowl in 11 seasons under coach Mark Dantonio.
Washington State: Fourth appearance in Holiday Bowl and second in a row, fourth bowl appearance in six years under coach Mike Leach.