The Holiday Bowl has received a lot of attention recently, but only because there was a chance one of the teams wouldn't show up, as Minnesota players had a brief boycott following the suspension of 10 Gophers players. They're back, though, and the game will go on.
Minnesota will be playing in its fifth straight bowl game, which ties a school record. This will also be the first time the Gophers have ever played in the Holiday Bowl and the first time they've played in a California bowl game since the 1961 Rose Bowl.
Washington State will be playing in its third bowl game in five years under Mike Leach. This is Washington State's third Holiday Bowl, with its last appearance being a 28-20 win over Texas in 2003.
This will be the sixth meeting between these schools. Washington State leads the series 3-2, and won the last meeting in 1988 by a 41-9 score.
Date: Tuesday, Dec. 27
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Qualcomm Stadium -- San Diego, California
Minnesota: The boycott has dominated the headlines for Minnesota. For a while, it looked as though Minnesota would not be making the trip and that the game would have either needed to find a replacement or possibly even be canceled. Instead, the Gophers are headed west to take on the Cougars and Mike Leach. The last time Minnesota ran into a Leach-coached team in a bowl game, things did not work out well. Minnesota had a 38-7 lead over Leach's Texas Tech team in the 2006 Insight Bowl, but the Red Raiders mounted a huge comeback to win 44-41 in overtime.
Washington State: A little over a month ago, Washington State had higher hopes than the Holiday Bowl. The Cougars were 7-0 in conference play with games remaining against Colorado and Washington. Two wins there could have sent the Cougars to the Rose Bowl, but they lost both of those games. Still, winning the Holiday Bowl and getting to at least nine wins for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2002-03 would be a nice way to finish a strong season.
Players to watch
Minnesota: Minnesota's offense goes as far as its running game wants to take it. Running back Rodney Smith rushed for 1,084 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, and he was supported by fellow back Shannon Brooks' 599 yards and five touchdowns. Mitch Leidner is the team's quarterback, but he hasn't been much of a threat through the air. He threw for 2,040 yards but had nearly twice as many interceptions (12) as he did touchdowns (seven). He's still a load to bring down, however, and rushed for 340 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Gophers are without some key players because of suspensions, but Steven Richardson (seven sacks, 11 tackles-for-loss), Blake Cashman (6.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL) and Jonathan Celestin (79 tackles) will play.
Washington State: While the Cougars will miss River Cracraft, this passing attack will be just fine. Luke Falk threw for 4,204 yards and 37 touchdowns while completing 71 percent of his passes this season. His favorite target was Gabe Marks, who caught 85 passes for 867 yards and 13 touchdowns. Tavares Martin, Jamal Morrow and Kyle Sweet also present Falk with plenty of options.
While Mike Leach teams aren't generally admired for their defenses, this Cougars unit has been pretty strong. Peyton Pelluer led the team with 89 tackles, while the aptly named Hercules Mata'afa had a big season on the defensive line. He's not much of a pass rushing threat -- though he did have four sacks and seven hurries -- he did record 12.5 tackles for loss. In the secondary, look out for Shalom Luani, who led the team with four interceptions.
Given the suspensions Minnesota is dealing with, it's really hard to trust the Gophers defense to be able to slow down what is a potent Washington State offense. The Gophers are missing some key players in the secondary against a team that picks stronger defenses apart through the air. So when you combine that with the fact that Minnesota players were boycotting and missed out on preparation time, it's even more difficult to like Minnesota's chances. Pick: Washington State -6.5