For nearly two decades, Holiday Bowl in San Diego was the primary aspiration for teams in the Western Athletic Conference from 1978 to 1997. If you won the WAC, you were going to the Holiday Bowl. Some of the most iconic moments in WAC and college football took place in the Holiday Bowl.
Where do I start? BYU’s comeback in the 1980 “Miracle Bowl” comes to mind, Steve Young’s iconic touchdown catch in the 1983 game. Finally, you have BYU clinching its groundbreaking 1984 National Title against Michigan.
However, once the WAC split and the Mountain West formed, the Holiday Bowl went its separate ways too. Still, San Diego remained a dear place for Mountain West schools as the Poinsettia Bowl carried the legacy the Holiday Bowl left behind, featuring a Mountain West team from 2005-2016. Half of the current membership of the Mountain West have appeared in the Holiday or the Poinsettia Bowl, including Hawaii. San Diego bowls are in the Mountain West’s blood.
Now, the Holiday Bowl can return to its roots after an explosive week of conference realignment last week. I do not need to waste many words discussing what happened last week with the PAC-12. The aftermath leaves the Pac-12’s bowl partners scrambling for solutions. While most of these bowls likely will follow the league's departures, the Holiday Bowl and its rich history must differentiate themself.
While the Holiday Bowl is one the oldest bowls in college football, it is an afterthought for Power Five teams, serving as a consolation prize for teams that do not make the New Year’s Six. The Holiday Bowl becoming the destination for Mountain West champions rekindles this rich history and makes it more attractive for traveling fans. Fans of Air Force and New Mexico, schools that never went to the Holiday Bowl in nearly two decades of trying, would likely be more to play in the Holiday Bowl than Big 12 or Big 10 fans would be.
Additionally, the Mountain West has always had a destination bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl and its coveted spot on ABC on the opening Saturday of bowl season was the crown jewel for Mountain West teams from the mid-2000s to the late 2010s until the Power Five usurped that privilege as they often do. Now, the Los Angeles Bowl is the destination for the Mountain West champion. While it is a great concept, it lacks the Holiday and Las Vegas Bowls' tradition. The Holiday Bowl is a better fit as the Mountain West’s “Champion’s Bowl”.
Finally, it gives the Mountain West a rare matchup against the ACC. Since the Mountain West’s inception in 1999, the conference has faced off against the ACC only 30 times and four times in bowls. The Holiday Bowl can provide Mountain West fans with a rarer matchup than the Los Angeles Bowl, further attracting Mountain West fans.
With everything happening in college football, a return to tradition from anybody is refreshing. The Holiday Bowl must turn back the clock and return to its roots. If it does not, it may become an afterthought in the age of the super conference and 12-team playoff.