SAN DIEGO — The Holiday Bowl pairing is set, and from the sound of it, neither Iowa nor Wyoming can wait to get to San Diego.
No sooner had Wyoming clinched its first Holiday Bowl appearance with a 37-13 victory at Texas El Paso Saturday than the players began to chant.
"To the beach! To the beach!" was their cry, said Weldon Donaldson, a member of the Holiday Bowl selection committee who was at the game.
The Cowboys end their regular season at Hawaii Saturday. But even if they lose and finish in a tie for first place with Brigham Young, they will be the Western Athletic Conference representative Dec. 30 in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium because they defeated BYU, 29-27, Oct. 10.
Iowa's Hawkeyes sounded just as ready to return to the Holiday Bowl, where they defeated San Diego State, 39-38, last year.
Soon after Iowa closed its regular season with a 34-20 victory over Minnesota, Coach Hayden Fry said it was likely that his team would arrive in San Diego as early as Dec. 22, a day or so earlier than last year.
"When we knew we weren't going to the Rose Bowl, we wanted to go the best bowl possible," Fry said.
Fry said the school turned down offers from five other bowls, though he declined to identify them. The Holiday Bowl payment of $750,000 per team ranks 13th among the 18 bowl games.
Saturday was the first day bowls were permitted to officially invite teams under National Collegiate Athletic Assn. rules. But most bowls had settled on their teams by last Sunday.
The pairing of Iowa and Wyoming matches two of the hottest teams in college football. Iowa (9-3, 6-2 in the Big Ten) has won five games in a row and seven of eight with Chuck Hartlieb as the starting quarterback. Wyoming (9-2, 7-0 in the WAC) has won its last eight games.
The turning point for the Cowboys, said Coach Paul Roach, came when they rallied to defeat BYU Oct. 10.
"That gave our players the confidence that they could come back against a good football team," Roach said.
This will be Wyoming's first bowl appearance since 1976, when it lost to Oklahoma, 41-7, in the Fiesta Bowl. Iowa will be playing in its seventh consecutive bowl.
The Hawkeyes are the first team in the 10-year history of the Holiday Bowl to return as an at-large team. BYU played in the first seven Holiday bowls, but that was as the WAC representative.
"A lot of people were dubious, questioning us on why we wanted to bring Iowa back again," said G.E. (Vinnie) Vinson, selection committee chairman. "But we felt that in their last two or three games, that if they were not the best, Iowa was one of the best teams in the Big Ten."
Then Vinson added the economic kicker.
"And I love the Iowa fans because they bring so many people."