SAN DIEGO — Northwestern will face Utah in the 41st Holiday Bowl Monday at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium, the first time the game has been played on New Year’s Eve.
The decision to play the game on New Year’s Eve was made by the Football Bowl Association, Holiday Bowl officials and Fox Sports, which is televising the 4 p.m. game, Rick Schloss, the Holiday Bowl’s director of media relations, told City News Service.
After being played before Christmas for each of its first eight games, the Holiday Bowl was played between Dec. 27 and 30 each year between 1986 and 2017.
Dec. 30 has been the date the game has been played on the most times, 16, most recently in 2015. The Dec. 30 date would have been impractical this year because it would have meant the game would have to compete for television viewers with a full schedule of NFL contests. No bowl games were played on Sunday during the 2018-19 bowl season.
A New Year’s Eve party will be held on the stadium’s concourse from 1:30-3:30 p.m. including $5 craft beers and wines at Gates L, P and C.
All four club lounges on the Club Level, Murphy’s Sports Bar at Plaza 22, View Level at Section 21, Plaza Sections 10 and 35 will be mimosa bars during the party.
There will be four food trucks inside Gates L and P — Epic Eatz, Slider House, Taco Time and Tortally Tasty.
Other pregame entertainment and activities include four live bands, face painting, temporary tattoos, photo booths and giveaways.
A crowd of close to 50,000 is expected, Schloss said.
Green Line trolleys will depart every 7 1/2 minutes between downtown and the stadium from 11:30 a.m. to the kickoff, according to the Metropolitan Transit System.
Both teams lost their conference championship games.
Utah (9-4) lost to Washington, 10-3, in the Pac-12 Conference title game Nov. 30, with the only touchdown scored when a pass bobbled by Siaosi Mariner caromed off his leg and was retrieved in the air by Byron Murphy, who ran 66 yards for the score.
Northwestern (8-5) lost to Ohio State, 45-24, in the Big Ten Conference title game Dec. 1 in a game it trailed 31-24 early in the fourth quarter.
The Holiday Bowl gets the second selection from the Pac-12 after the participants in the New Year’s Six bowls. The Alamo Bowl selected Washington State with the first choice.
The Utes were ranked 20th in the most recent Associated Press poll, released Dec. 2. The Wildcats barely missed cracking the Top 25 with 109 voting points, one less than 25th-ranked Iowa State.
Northwestern lost three of its first four games, won four in a row, lost to Notre Dame, 31-21, then won its next three before the conference title game loss.
Utah started the season 2-2, won four in a row, lost to Arizona State, 38-20, then won its next three before the conference title game loss.
The Holiday Bowl has matched teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten Conference since 2014.
The Wildcats and Utes will both be making their debuts in the Holiday Bowl, which has been played annually since 1978.
The series is tied, 1-1, with Northwestern winning 13-6 in 1927 and Utah winning 42-0 in 1981 when the Wildcats were in the midst of an NCAA Division I-A record 34-game losing streak.
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham played in each of the first four Holiday Bowls as a Brigham Young linebacker and was the defensive most valuable player in the 1981 game when he made eight unassisted tackles, assisted on two others and a recovered a fumble in the Cougars 38-36 victory over Washington State.
Whittingham was inducted into the Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame in 2009.
“To be able to come back some … 40 years later, that is pretty incredible,” Whittingham said at a news conference Sunday.
Whittingham has an 11-1 record as a head coach in bowl games, the best in college football history. Utah has won its last five bowl games, including a 30-14 victory over West Virginia in the 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl.
“Everyone asks me what our key to success is in bowl prep,” Whittingham said. “Really nothing that we hold under lock and key, some secret practice plans.
“Just the way our guys go about business, knowing when to have fun, knowing when to get down to business. Our guys have done a great job of doing that.”
Whether quarterback Tyler Huntley starts will be a “game-time decision,” Whittingham said.
Huntley has resumed practicing after missing the last four games with a broken collarbone suffered Nov. 3 against Arizona State.
“He looks great,” Whittingham said. “He’s doing a great job. He’s practiced, ready to go. If he’s allowed to go, he’s ready to go.”
Redshirt freshman Jason Shelley has a 3-1 record as the starter in place of Huntley. He rushed or passed for multiple touchdowns in three of his four starts.
Northwestern is seeking its third consecutive bowl victory, a first for the program whose bowl record is 4-10, including a record-tying nine consecutive losses from the 1995 though 2011 seasons.
The Wildcats got a touchdown and field goal in the final eight minutes, 23 seconds to overcame a three-point deficit to defeat Pittsburgh 31- 24 in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl.
Kentucky was unsuccessful on a two-point conversion attempt with 37 seconds left in Northwestern’s 24-23 victory in the 2017 Music City Bowl.
“We found a way to get it done,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Not necessarily been very pretty. We’ve made plenty of mistakes. That happens in the postseason when you’ve had this much time off.”
The layoff will be “a little bit of a challenge,” against the Utes, Fitzgerald said “especially from a standpoint of the team speed they have, the schematics they present for us.”