The Golden Gophers take on the Cougars in the 39th annual bowl game
SAN DIEGO – The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Washington State Cougars have accepted invitations to play in the 39th annual National Funding Holiday Bowl, Executive Director of the San Diego Bowl Games Mark Neville announced today. It marks the first trip to the National Funding Holiday Bowl for the Golden Gophers. The contest will also mark Minnesota’s first bowl game in California since it beat UCLA 21-3 in the 1962 Rose Bowl. The Cougars will be making their third appearance in the bowl game and first since 2003.
The National Funding Holiday Bowl kicks off at 4:00 pm, Tuesday, December 27th at Qualcomm Stadium and will be televised on ESPN. This year, the game will feature the ultimate pregame fan experience, the National Funding FanZone, complete with a craft beer garden, local food trucks, interactive football skills challenges, a sports lounge and more, all free with a game ticket.
“This game has the makings of yet another exciting and memorable National Funding Holiday Bowl,” said Mark Neville, executive director of the bowl game. “I think the scoreboard is going to get quite the workout as these two teams have a history of putting up some big numbers. I’m ecstatic that our fans are going to get an amazing game and an incredible experience.”
This is the 19th consecutive appearance by a Pac-12 school in the National Funding Holiday Bowl. The Big Ten Conference will be making its third consecutive appearance in San Diego.
The Golden Gophers will head to Southern California with an 8-4 overall record, including a 5-4 mark in Big Ten Conference play. The Cougars are 8-4 overall and finished 7-2 in the Pac-12.
“We are thrilled to be selected to play in the historic National Funding Holiday Bowl for the first time,” said Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys. “This will also be our first bowl game in California since 1962 and our players and fans are excited for the experience. Washington State is a proven team and will provide a tremendous challenge for us, but one we are eager to prepare for.”
The Gophers and Washington State have played five times. All five games were contested in Minneapolis, but the teams have not met since 1988. Minnesota beat Washington State in 1976 and 1982 and fell to the Cougars in 1965, 1971 and 1988.
“It’s a tremendous honor for our young men to be able to play in the National Funding Holiday Bowl,” said Minnesota Director of Athletics Mark Coyle. “It is going to be an exciting game against a great team in Washington State. I look forward to watching the Gophers compete for their ninth win of the season, which is a feat that Minnesota has accomplished only one other time since 1905.”
Minnesota will play in its fifth straight bowl game and 19th overall when it faces the Cougars. The streak of five consecutive bowls is tied for the longest stretch in program history, as the Gophers also played in five straight bowl games from 2002-06. Minnesota snapped a seven-game bowl losing streak last year with a win in the Quick Lane Bowl.
The Gophers were the fourth-highest scoring team in the Big Ten this season, as they averaged 30.3 points per game. Leading Minnesota on offense is senior quarterback Mitch Leidner, who will be playing his final game in the Maroon and Gold. Leidner has played in three previous bowl games and has put up impressive numbers. He has completed 56-of-83 passes (67.4%) for 686 yards and four touchdowns in games against Syracuse (2013 Texas Bowl), Missouri (2015 Citrus Bowl) and Central Michigan (2015 Quick Lane Bowl). Lediner also completed 14 straight passes against both Missouri and Central Michigan, which is tied with Adam Weber (vs. Bowling Green in 2008) for the most in program history.
“Washington State is delighted to be invited to the National Funding Holiday Bowl. Both Coach Leach and I have participated in this fabulous event in the past and have experienced first-hand the tremendous hospitality of the RedCoats and the wonderful city of San Diego,” said Washington State Director of Athletics Bill Moos.
Washington State is making its second-straight bowl appearance, and third overall, in Leach’s five years, a first for a Cougar head coach. It also marks the 13th overall bowl game for the Cougar program. Last season WSU defeated Miami, 20-14, in the Sun Bowl. Previously WSU has played in the Rose Bowl (1916, 1931, 1998, 2003), the Holiday Bowl (1981, 2003), the Aloha Bowl (1988), the Copper Bowl (1992), the Alamo Bowl (1994), the Sun Bowl (2001, 2015) and the 2013 New Mexico Bowl. The Cougars are 7-5 in bowl games all time.
“We are thrilled to be going to the Holiday Bowl,” said WSU Head Coach Mike Leach. “It is going to be a great matchup between two great teams. The last time we were in the Holiday Bowl we had a tremendous experience and expect the same this time around.”
The Cougars are making their third appearance in the Holiday Bowl, having lost to No. 14 Brigham Young in 1981 and defeating No. 5 Texas in 2003. In the 1981 contest, WSU trailed 31-7 early in the second half before making a strong comeback with four second-half scores, coming up just shy in a 38-36 game. In 2003, the Cougar defense registered seven sacks and a safety, while the offense had three third-quarter scores to lead WSU to its third-straight 10-win season.
Tickets for the 2016 National Funding Holiday Bowl can be purchased by visiting SanDiegoBowlGames.com or through Ticketmaster. Fans can also purchase tickets at Qualcomm Stadium, Window B, Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. All game tickets include free access to the National Funding FanZone and a code included on every printed and electronic ticket that unlocks exclusive discounts at over 100 San Diego restaurants and attractions.
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