SAN DIEGO — Washington State will face Michigan State in the 40th annual Holiday Bowl Thursday at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium in a matchup of 9-3 teams.
A “fan zone” opens at 3 p.m. in section B-2 of the stadium’s parking lot. It includes food trucks, interactive football skills challenges and a sports lounge to watch telecasts of other sporting events. Admission to the fan zone is free.
The fan zone also includes a craft beer garden. Beer garden wristbands are available for $25 for adults 21 years and older with valid identification.
Pregame pageantry includes performances by the participating universities’ marching bands and parachute jumpers. A football field-sized American flag will be unfurled during the playing of the national anthem. Fans are advised to be in their seats by 5:30 p.m. to witness the pregame pageantry.
The marching bands will perform again at halftime, when there will also be a large fireworks show.
A crowd of more than 45,000 is expected, according to Rick Schloss, the Holiday Bowl’s director of media relations.
The Metropolitan Transit System will increase Green Line trolley service between the Convention Center and the stadium to every 7 1/2 minutes beginning at 1 p.m., with trolleys running every 7 1/2 minutes, said Rob Schupp, the system’s director of marketing and communications.
Beginning at 2:15 p.m, additional service will run every five minutes between Old Town and the stadium, Schupp said.
Service between Santee and the stadium will run every 15 minutes.
Jason Strayhorn, the analyst on Michigan State’s radio broadcasts, said he expects a game that will be “a chess match” between Spartans coach Mark Dantonio and Washington State’s Mike Leach.
“There’s similar philosophies as far as ball control on both sides, but different ways of approaching it,” said Strayhorn, who was the first-team All-Big Ten Conference center in 1998 when he played for Michigan State.
“Michigan State prides itself off of running the ball first. Washington State is coming in with a passing attack … that is a very slow- paced, ball control offense … (that has a) lot of crossing patterns which Michigan State has had trouble with, with four and five receivers going out into routes. Michigan State’s defensive secondary and linebackers are going to be tested.”
The Holiday Bowl will be determined “by third-down conversions for both teams,” Strayhorn told City News Service.
The Cougars defense is first among Football Bowl Subdivision teams allowing its opponents to convert on third down 24.84 percent of the time. The Spartans are second in time of possession, averaging 35 minutes, 12 seconds per game.
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk is likely to finish the season leading FBS quarterbacks in completions. He enters the Holiday Bowl with 357, 11 less than Mike White of Western Kentucky, which has finished its season.
Falk is also second behind White in passes thrown with 534, 26 less than White.
Falk is the Pac-12 Conference career record holder in completions (1,404), passing yards (14,486), touchdown passes (119), total offense (14,086) and passes (2,055).
Michigan State’s regular season was “a rousing success” that “exceeded everybody’s expectations in East Lansing,” Strayhorn said.
The Spartans were coming off a 3-9 season in 2016 and predicted to finish fourth in the Big Ten Conference’s seven-team East Division in a poll of writers covering the conference conducted by Cleveland.com.
The Spartans started the season 7-1, then lost two of their next three games. Michigan State concluded the regular season with victories over Maryland and Rutgers, tying Penn State for second in the division, one game behind division champion Ohio State.
Washington State was 6-0 to begin the season, including a 30-27 victory over eventual Pac-12 Conference champion USC, then lost two of its next three games. The Cougars lost to Washington, 41-14, in their final regular- season game, finishing third in the six-team North Division.
Michigan State will be making its first Holiday Bowl appearance and first appearance in California since the 2014 Rose Bowl Game when it defeated Stanford, 24-20.
Washington State will be making its second consecutive appearance in the Holiday Bowl and fourth overall. The Cougars lost to Minnesota, 17-12, in 2016 and to Brigham Young, 38-36 in the 1981 game, in a game it trailed 31-7 early in the second half.
Washington State’s lone Holiday Bowl victory came in 2003 when it defeated Texas, 28-20.
The Holiday Bowl has annually matched teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten Conference since 2014.
This will be the first meeting between the teams since 1977. The Spartans lead the series, 5-2.