by Greg Katz
LOS ANGELES – For USC Trojans fans, it was one of the great mysteries of last Sunday’s bowl selection process. Just where were the USC Trojans headed for their post-season bowl destination after having lost on Saturday night to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game?
Beginning a month earlier, this whole destination deal had became Obsessive Compulsive Behavior for Trojans fans who were religiously checking ESPN’s weekly bowl projections.
Thankfully, the bowl game OCD was silenced last Sunday. The Men of Troy are returning for their second post-season in a row to the distinguished Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
Now Trojans fans, you have to admit that despite the depressive loss to Stanford, there was still some relative intrigue and suspense leading up to last Sunday’s bowl announcement.
Would it be the Foster Farms Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl, or the long shot Holiday Bowl?
Holiday Bowl reps would be the first to tell you that the eventual Pac-12 South Division champion Trojans weren’t even strongly considered for their San Diego event a little over a month ago. The Trojans were just starting to get back on their feet under then interim coach Clay Helton.
Holiday Bowl reps would also be the first to tell you that having the Trojans last season against Nebraska was a near flawless success. In case you’ve forgotten the 2014 Holiday Bowl, it took a Nelson Agholor final-play knock down of a desperation pass by Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. inside the Trojans 10-yard line for USC to escape with a 45-42 victory.
So when it came time to select the teams for the 2015 Holiday Bowl, the San Diego Bowl Game Association somewhat surprisingly decided to override its own general rule of not inviting the same team two years in row and wound up with a wonderful matchup between the Trojans, who will bring lots of fans, and the Big Ten’s Wisconsin Badgers, who figure to bring lots and lots and lots and lots of fans.
The Holiday Bowl attendance record is 65,416 (Oregon Ducks-Oklahoma Sooners in 2005), which is just shy of Qualcomm Stadium capacity (66,000). That 2005 attendance record may be in jeopardy because of the rabid followings of the Trojans and Badgers.
When it comes to traveling, both teams tour well. USC fans like to vacation down in San Diego, and then there is the red wave from the Dairy State that are sure to enjoy the Southern California climate and the trendy and historic Gaslamp Quarter.
“Putting Wisconsin and USC on the field, that is tradition-rich Pac-12 vs. Big Ten football and we’re bringing that to San Diego,” said Mark Neville, executive director of the San Diego Bowl Game Association. “It doesn’t get much bigger than this. This is one of those matchups where we’re pinching ourselves.”
And the attraction for both fan bases should be more than fired up to come to San Diego for a festive atmosphere.
“Last year, we had an overwhelming turnout of Trojan fans at the Holiday Bowl and they were a key factor in our victory, and we expect a similar turnout this year,” said Trojans head coach Clay Helton.
And many Trojans fans from last season’s game, which drew 55,789, a family trip to the Holiday Bowl makes a great holiday family gift.
“It’s a chance for our fans to spend the week after Christmas with us in the great city of San Diego, participate in all the fun activities the bowl puts on, and cap it off by watching their Trojans play in what should be a very exciting game,” Helton said.
Back in artic Wisconsin, Badgers head coach Paul Chryst was equally enthusiastic about his Badgers making their first-ever appearance in the Holiday Bowl and predicted his fan base of Cheeseheads would be more than happy to escape the frozen tundra of the upper Midwest.
“The Holiday Bowl and San Diego are a great destination for our team and fans,” Chryst said. “I know first-hand what San Diego has to offer from my days with the Chargers and know that our team will have a wonderful experience. It’s a new experience for our fans and one I am confident they will enjoy.”
Ah, yes, a football game featuring USC (8-5) and No. 23 Wisconsin (9-3). The last time these two met was in 1966, which resulted in a 38-3 Trojans victory in the Coliseum.
However, the real historical significance of the two teams was the legendary 1963 Rose Bowl shootout in which the Trojans survived an aborted Badgers comeback, 42-37, before 98,698.
If the two current programs can top the offensive pyrotechnics of the 1963 Rose Bowl Game, nobody will be happier with the scoreboard and turnstiles counts than the 2015 Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30.