It might not have been the bowl the Michigan State Spartans wanted, but it is a bowl none the less.
After a 3-9 season last year, Michigan State reversed its fortunes and finished this year with a 9-3 record. That year long performance earned the Spartans a trip to the Holiday Bowl to take on the Washington State Cougars on Thursday, Dec. 28, at 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
Here are five things to know about the Cougars, who finished third in the North in the Pac-12 with a record of 6-3 in league play and 9-3 overall.
Washington State senior quarterback Luke Falk is the NCAA active leader in passing yards (14,117) and passing yards per game (336.1). He also owns both PAC-12 and Washington State records for passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense.
On the year, Falk has been one of the most dominant signal callers in college football. He has thrown for 3,593 yards (13th in the nation), 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while completing 66.9 percent of his passes. With head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, expect a lot of Falk come late December against the Spartans.
They can put up points
Speaking of Leach’s Air Raid offense, Washington State can light up the scoreboard. On the year, the Cougars are averaging 31.4 points per game. However, they put up 47 points against Boise State, 45 on Nevada, 30 versus USC, and high 58 against Arizona.
Tavares Martin Jr. is fourth in the Pac-12 at 75.5 yards per game and leads Washington State with 70 catches and nine touchdowns, but he is one of nine receivers with 24 or more receptions this season. So the Cougars do spread the ball around through the air. However, they ranked last in the Pac-12 at 71.7 rushing yards per game this year.
They have a good defense
While Washington State is known for its Air Raid offense, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t play defense. In fact, the Cougars have the No. 15 defense in the country.
Washington State ranks second in the Pac-12 in total defense (313.6) and fourth by allowing 24.4 points per game. Junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa was a monster during the regular season as he led the conference at 9.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss. So Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke will need to know where Mata’afa is at all times or he could have a long, dreadful bowl performance.
Been 40 years since the last match-up
In the all-time series, the Spartans have a commanding 5-2 lead over the Cougars. But the last time Michigan State-Washington State faced off, the team out West won. The Cougars last played the Spartans in 1977, beating Michigan State 23-21 in East Lansing.
Washington State lost last year’s Holiday Bowl
For the second straight year, Washington State is heading to San Diego. The reason why the Cougars are heading back down to California for the second year in a row is because the College Football Playoff committee selected two Pac-12 teams for New Year’s Six Bowl games instead of one. And this year, Washington State is hoping for a better result.
Last season, the Cougars lost 17-12 to the Minnesota Golden Gophers. In that game, Fulk threw for 264 yards, a score, and an interception while completing 58.8 percent of his passes. However, Washington State’s leading rusher in that game was Gerard Wicks with 26 yards. So, the Cougars will look to avenge last year’s lost in the Holiday Bowl.