5 Greatest games in Holiday Bowl history


After bottoming out to a 3-9 record in 2016, following an appearance in the College Football Playoff, the Michigan State Spartans have flipped the script this season and are back in a bowl game. They will play on December 28 in the Holiday Bowl out in San Diego, against Washington State out of the Pac-12.

While seem feel slighted that MSU got “snubbed” with this selection, it should make for a very fun game.

A brief history lesson on the Holiday Bowl. It began in 1978 and had tie-ins with the once-existed Western Athletic Conference for 20 years. The WAC gave way to what is now the Pac-12 in 1997. Two years prior, the Big 12 had a lengthy marriage with the Holiday Bowl reps before the Big Ten assumed that spot in 2014; a spot they held from 1991-94. This bowl now annually showcases top-tier teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12 that just missed out on the more premier bowl games, i.e. the New Year’s Six.

Ahead of this year’s bout between MSU and WSU, we look back at the five greatest games in Holiday Bowl history.

1980 | BYU 46, SMU 45

Brigham Young was a frequent visitor in this bowl game for a number of years, being a former member of the old WAC conference. This was just the third year of the bowl game’s existence and also the third straight Holiday Bowl for BYU.

The Cougars entered this game 11-1 and pitted against a Southern Methodist team from the former Southwest Conference, checking in at 7-4. These two teams put together a game that still stands as the highest-scoring game in Holiday Bowl history.

SMU led 38-19 after three quarters of play and eventually 45-25 with less than four minutes remaining in the contest. BYU quarterback Jim McMahon engineered three scoring drives, aided by an onside kick recovery and a fourth down stop to stun the Mustangs. The most memorable play is the Hail Mary attempt by McMahon to Clay Brown, who was surrounded by a trio of SMU defenders.


We mentioned before that BYU was virtually a regular for a lot of the early years of the Holiday Bowl. One year after coming from behind to shock SMU, they found themselves in another thrilling dogfight, this time against Washington State in a battle of Cougars.

This was the first bowl game and most wins (8) in a single season in 50 years for WSU, when they collected 10 victories and reached the 1931 Rose Bowl Game.

This game was very different for BYU than the year prior, given that they carried a 31-7 lead well into the third. But Wazzu stormed back with 21 unanswered points to make it a 3-point game going into the fourth quarter. But McMahon & Co. led the eventually game-clinching drive to effectively seal a win.

1991 | IOWA 13, BYU 13

Yes, BYU is on the list again… they were a stout program during this era. And no, that is not a typo, this game did end in a tie.

This edition of the Cougars was not as dominant as some prior years but they proved themselves worthy for a vaunted Iowa team that finished top-10 in the polls at season’s end.

This game carries a lot of historical nuggets. It remains the only tie game in Holiday Bowl history and tied for the lowest-scoring game in the bowl’s history as well. It is also the most recent major college football bowl game to end in a tie. Despite combining for just 26 points, the Cougars and Hawkeyes together racked up close to 800 yards of total offense. BYU quarterback Ty Detmer was responsible for 350 passing yards.



The Michigan Wolverines in 1994 were the final Big Ten team to compete in the Holiday Bowl before their 20-year hiatus. It was also their second appearance ever in this bowl game.

Michigan in 1994 opposed WAC champion Colorado State, who notched double-digit wins and gradually crept up the AP Poll as the season progressed, reaching as high as No. 10 by the end of the year.

Statistically speaking, this was about as even of game as one could have had in terms of total yardage; Michigan was more balanced while CSU was pass-heavy. But an aggressive defense for the Wolverines headlined this contest. After building up an early 10-7 lead in the first quarter, Michigan forced the Rams to turn the ball over five times in the second and third quarters, outscoring them 14-0 in that span.

This Holiday Bowl was the final game for Michigan head coach Gary Moeller, who in five seasons registered a very solid 44-13-3 record, including wins in four of five bowl games.

2001 | TEXAS 47, WASHINGTON 43

This Holiday Bowl was wild for a number of reasons. The 2001 game featured a perennial Pac-10 contender in Washington against a perennial national title contender in Texas.

What’s more incredible than the combined 90 points between the Longhorns and Huskies, which is the second-highest game in Holiday Bowl history behind the aforementioned BYU/SMU tilt in 1980, is how they got to this point. Both teams came up empty in the scoring column in the first quarter. And if that wasn’t strange enough, Texas outscored Washington 27-7 in the fourth quarter to seal a W.

Lot of records in this one, or marks that rank among the greats in the history of this game. Among the more notable accolades where this 2001 Holiday Bowl ranks second to none: tied for most plays from scrimmage (167) and tied for most completions (64) And it was a full-blown aerial attack from both sides. Texas QB Major Applewhite tallied 473 passing yards, third-most in this bowl’s history.