A Complete Guide and History of the Holiday Bowl

Credit: SDCCU

Credit: SDCCU

Memorable Games

The Holiday Bowl has hosted quite the collection of classic games.

Let’s take a look at some of the best Holiday Bowls ever, starting from the beginning.

It started in 1978.

1978: Navy 23. BYU 16

Of course, we have to include the first ever Holiday Bowl every played.

Navy won this game thanks to its 214 rushing yards and 12 BYU penalties.

The Midshipmen’s Phil McConkey had four receptions for 88 yards and added 42 rushing yards on his way to winning bowl MVP.

1979: Indiana 38, BYU 37

This game was a thriller. BYU was previously undefeated at 11-0 and Indiana, with head coach Lee Corso, was in a bowl for the first time in 12 years.

BYU led late 37-31. The Hoosiers’ Tim Wilbur returned a punt for a 62-yard touchdown to give Indiana the lead, which they would hold on to after a BYU missed field goal. This was Indiana’s first ever bowl win.

1980: BYU 46, SMU 45

This is going to take a while to illustrate. For starters, this game is dubbed the “Miracle Bowl.” The BYU Cougars were 11-1 behind future NFL star Jim McMahon. SMU had the “Pony Express” with Craig James and Eric Dickerson at running back. The SMU Mustangs built a 45-25 lead with just four minutes left in the fourth quarter.

McMahon then went on a tear, throwing a touchdown pass, and then led another touchdown drive after BYU recovered an onside kick. Many shocked fans looked on as BYU had shaved the lead to 45-39. The Cougars trusted their defense and got a stop. That punt was blocked and BYU took over at the 41-yard line with 13 seconds left. As time expired, McMahon heaved one into the end zone and BYU tight end Clay Brown brought the ball in to score the game-tying touchdown. The PAT was good and BYU sealed a furious 21-point, four-minute comeback that, to this day, is deemed one of the greatest bowl games ever played.

1984: BYU 24, Michigan 17

Some might accuse me of being a BYU homer with how much BYU is in this article (I attended its Idaho affiliate and have been a big BYU fan my whole life). But really, it just shows how much BYU helped shape what the Holiday Bowl has become.

An 11-0 BYU team was led by legendary head coach LaVell Edwards and quarterback Robbie Bosco. With some scheduling difficulties, a 6-5 Michigan team was sent to play the Cougars. They too had a legendary head coach in Bo Schembechler. BYU led 10-7 at the half but the Wolverines took a brief lead in the 3rd quarter.

BYU had six turnovers in this game, but managed to battle back and win it 24-17. This resulted in BYU being voted the Consensus 1984 National Champions, the last non-Power 5 team to win the title. This would be the seventh year in a row the Holiday Bowl featured BYU.

1986: Iowa 39, San Diego State 38

This game was certainly a heartbreaker for the hometown team, but the game itself was thrilling.

The Aztecs at one point led 28-13 thanks to three first half touchdown passes by QB Todd Santos. SDSU built a 35-21 lead into the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes came storming back. Iowa QB Mark Vlasic came in clutch. He had three total touchdowns including two passing. Down 35-29, Vlasic orchestrated a go-ahead touchdown drive, making it 36-35 in favor of Iowa.

Then, with 47 seconds, Aztecs kicker Kevin Rahill nailed a 21-yard field goal to give the Aztecs a 38-36 lead. Thanks to a big kick return, Iowa set up for a game-winning field goal and Rob Houghtlin made it as time expired to give the Hawkeyes the thrilling win on the Aztecs’ home field.

1991: BYU 13, Iowa 13

I promise, this will be the last time you see BYU on this list.

And yes, you read that right, it resulted in a 13-all tie. Hawkeyes running back Mike Saunders opened up the scoring with a touchdown run and then another, giving Iowa a 13-0 first half lead. BYU Heisman winning QB Ty Detmer responded with a touchdown pass to make the score 13-6 just before the half. Detmer threw another late in the fourth quarter to tie the game 13-13 and that’s where the game ended.

This was the last tie in bowl history.

2001: Texas 47, Washington 43

The Longhorns had a little “Miracle Bowl” of their own in this one.

The Huskies jumped out in front 13-0 thanks to two field goals and a pick-six. Then Longhorns QB, Major Applewhite, threw two touchdown passes before the half. The Huskies came out hot again to start the second half. Their lead was 36-20 heading into the fourth quarter. Applewhite orchestrated four touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, putting up 27 points.

Ivan Williams sealed the win with 38 seconds left with a rushing touchdown in a crazy comeback to win it 47-43.

2010: Washington 19, Nebraska 7

As far as upsets go, this was one of the most surprising games in Holiday Bowl history. Nebraska came in 10-2 and ranked 17th. Washington was just two seasons removed from a 0-12 disaster and came into this game at 6-6 with a suspect defense.

QB Jake Locker led the Huskies to a big win with 83 yards rushing and Chris Polk carried the load with 177 yards on the ground. This was Washington’s first Holiday Bowl win in four tries and spring-boarded them into the program they are today.

2015: Wisconsin 23, USC 21

This game pinned two premier programs against each other who hadn’t played one another since 1966.

For over half the game, it wasn’t compelling. The Badgers held a 20-7 lead in the third quarter. Justin Davis then ran for a Trojans touchdown and Cody Kessler threw a fourth quarter touchdown to put USC ahead 21-20 with 10 minutes left in the game. The score would remain the same until, with less than three minutes left, Wisconsin kicked a 29-yard field goal to take the lead and win 23-21.

2017 Holiday Bowl Game Preview

As I mentioned before, Washington State comes back to San Diego looking to atone for last year’s embarrassment.

They are licking their wounds after a 41-14 thrashing they took from the UW Huskies in the heated Apple Cup. Mike Leach will have that offense ready. They are second in the nation with 376 passing yards per game and are 9-3, ranked 18th in the nation. Cougars QB Luke Falk is the all-time passing leader of the PAC-12 conference. He threw for at least 30 touchdowns for the third straight season.

The #16 Michigan State Spartans bounced back after a nightmare 2016 season, when they went 3-9. They reversed that record this year and are playing great defense, ranked in the top 10 in total defense. Running back L.J. Scott is a bruiser on offense, with seven total touchdowns and 905 yards from scrimmage (that was with missing a game and being banged up a lot of the season).

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.

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