Minnesota and Washington State to face in Holiday Bowl

The Gophers and the Cougars will play in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner runs the ball against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Wisconson won 31-17 over Minnesota.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner runs the ball against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Wisconson won 31-17 over Minnesota.

by Mike Hendrickson

The Gophers will face Pac-12 opponent Washington State in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27.

It will be Minnesota’s fifth straight season with a bowl game appearance.

“Great weather we’ll have out there. It’ll be a big challenge,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “I know [Washington State head coach Mike Leach] [and] wherever he’s been, has won an awful lot of games, and has done the same thing with Washington State, so I think it’s a great matchup in a great location.”

Minnesota went 8-4 in the regular season with losses to No. 5 Penn State, No. 21 Iowa, No. 24 Nebraska and No. 8 Wisconsin. The Gophers finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten West.

Washington State also went 8-4 in the regular season. They lost to Eastern Washington, Boise State, No. 11 Colorado and No. 4 Washington. The Cougars finished second in the Pac-12 North.

“[Leach] does some things that are a little bit different, and he’s been extremely successful with it,” Claeys said. “His offensive philosophy’s proven to work everywhere.”

The game will be somewhat of a homecoming for one player on the Gophers.

Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky is one of the only California natives with Minnesota. He grew up in Santa Clarita, a town about 150 miles from San Diego.

The senior said he was thrilled to find out his final game for the Gophers would be in his home state.

“This is the bowl game I hoped we’d get,” Wolitarsky said. “[I] really crossed my fingers for San Diego just so I could have my family come out and see me one more time in my collegiate career. [I’m] really excited and ready to get down there already and leave this cold atmosphere.”

Wolitarsky said he usually has around 10 family and friends at his games in Minnesota, but expects over 100 for the Holiday Bowl.

The Cougars have played in a bowl game for three straight seasons and defeated Miami 20-14 in the Sun Bowl Bowl last year.

Minnesota won its first bowl game since 2004 last season with a 21-14 win over Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl. The Gophers played in seven bowl games without a win before the victory in 2015.

The Holiday Bowl is a significant upgrade from last year’s bowl game in Detroit, and Claeys said it shows progress.

A win in San Diego would mark the first nine-win season for the Gophers since 2003.

“We’re close to having a great season,” Claeys said. “They’re excited to get an opportunity to play one more game and especially a good bowl game.”

The Dec. 27 game will be the sixth ever between Washington State and Minnesota. In their last meeting, the Cougars defeated the Gophers 41-9 in 1988.

The game will be played at Qualcomm Stadium at 6 p.m. on Dec. 27. The game will be televised on ESPN.