SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Holiday Bowl will usher in a new era with a potentially retro look.
The No. 15 Oregon Ducks will play North Carolina on Wednesday night at Petco Park, the downtown home of baseball’s San Diego Padres. It’ll be the first football game at the ballpark and the first Holiday Bowl since 2019.
While the setting will be new, the matchup between prolific quarterbacks Bo Nix of Oregon and Drake Maye of North Carolina could produce a classic high-scoring Holiday Bowl.
Both quarterbacks will be looking for a strong finish to springboard them in 2023 after their teams slumped at the end of the regular season. Oregon lost two of its last three, including to rival Oregon State, and North Carolina comes in on a three-game losing streak, including a 29-point loss to Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
Nix had been a Heisman contender before an ankle injury in a loss to Washington knocked him off the pace. He announced last week in a video that he’ll return for his fifth year of eligibility: “There’s nothing like being an Oregon Duck. For 2023, I’m back.”
The Ducks are favored by 14½ points and the over/under is 74½ points, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
“I think it’s unbelievable,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said of the potential for an offensive show. “Both defenses are hearing how great the offenses are going to be so they’re both mad. Coming into the game they think nobody’s giving them a chance so that means those defenses will fight hard.”
Both teams had to replace their offensive coordinators after the regular season. Brown said play-calling falls to Lonnie Galloway, the assistant head coach/passing game coordinator, “who has never called a play in a ballgame, so it will be interesting.”
Brown is coaching in the Holiday Bowl for the sixth time. He brought Texas here five times between 2000 and 2011, going 3-2. His Longhorns lost to the Ducks in 2000.
A matchup between Nix and Maye is perfect for a bowl game with a reputation for high-scoring games dating to the early 1980s with BYU’s Jim McMahon and Steve Young. Nix completed 71.5% of his passes for 3,388 yards and 27 touchdowns, with six interceptions. He also ran for 540 yards and 14 more touchdowns. Maye, the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, threw for 4,115 yards and 35 TDs, with seven interceptions.
Carolina’s leading receiver, Josh Downs, has opted out to prepare for the NFL draft, as has Oregon outside linebacker D.J. Johnson, who had six of the Ducks’ 16 sacks. The Tar Heels have lost several defensive backs to the transfer portal.
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLPARK
The Holiday Bowl moved downtown after its home of 42 years, Qualcomm Stadium, was demolished to make room for a new stadium and campus expansion for San Diego State. Petco Park, which opened in 2004, has hosted a basketball game between San Diego State and the University of San Diego, a Davis Cup tennis match on a clay court between Britain and the United States, as well as soccer, rugby, and various motorsports events. The Padres also host the Links at Petco Park every January, with golfers taking shots onto the playing field from nine tees placed around the ballpark.
This will be the first Holiday Bowl since Iowa routed USC in 2019. The 2020 Holiday Bowl was canceled due to the pandemic and last year’s game scheduled for Petco Park wasn’t played after UCLA pulled out about five hours before kickoff against North Carolina State, citing a COVID-19 outbreak.
Brown mused about being routed by Marcus Mariota and the Ducks in the 2013 Alamo Bowl, his last game with Texas. When the Tar Heels and Ducks visited the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on Monday, Brown toured the ship with Nix and Ducks coach Dan Lanning.
“Bo was going up the steps in front of me, and I started to grab his ankle,” Brown said with a laugh, “but there were too many cameras. I didn’t want to hurt him bad. It’s just one game. But I’ve been there. God looked at me and said, ‘No, don’t do that.’”