The Holiday Bowl is a post-season NCAA-sanctioned Division I-A college football bowl game that has been played annually at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, since 1978. Beginning with the 2010 playing the bowl will officially be known as the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl after Bridgepoint Education signed on to replace Pacific Life as the bowl's title sponsor. Previous sponsors have included SeaWorld, Thrifty Car Rental, Plymouth, and Culligan.
The bowl was founded in 1978 pitting the Western Athletic Conference champion against an at-large opponent, when the Fiesta Bowl, which had hosted the WAC champion, ended its relationship with the conference. For the first seven games, Brigham Young University represented the WAC as its champion. In the inaugural game on December 22, The Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy came in with an 8–3 record and a Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and then capped the remarkable season with a 23–16 comeback victory over the highly favored Cougars. BYU has played in a total of 11 Holiday Bowls, more than any other team. The 1980 game was known as "The Miracle Bowl" as BYU erased a 20 point Southern Methodist lead to win on the last play of the game.
Four years later, BYU, led by their coach, LaVell Edwards, won the national championship in the Holiday Bowl by defeating the University of Michigan Wolverines, coached by Bo Schembechler, 24–17. It was the first — and only — time that the title was won at the Holiday Bowl, or any other December bowl game. Because of the WAC's contract with the Holiday Bowl, BYU, #1 ranked and the only undefeated team in Division I-A going into that season's bowls, was obligated to play in the mid-tier Holiday Bowl against a mediocre (6–5) Michigan squad.
Beginning in 1995, the WAC's bowl tie-in was split between the Holiday Bowl and Cotton Bowl Classic, with the Cotton Bowl Classic receiving first choice of the WAC champion or a Pac-10 team. After the 1997 Holiday Bowl, the WAC elected to sever ties with the Holiday Bowl and send its champion to either the Cotton or Liberty Bowls, and the Big 12 Conference became a partner.
The game currently features the 3rd place Pac-12 team and the 5th place Big 12 team. This agreement was forged prior to the 2009 playing of the Holiday Bowl, which was the last to feature the Pac-10's second-place team and the Big 12's third-place team (who now face off in the Alamo Bowl). The game has recently become a type of "upset" bowl. In 2005, a 10–1 Oregon team (favored by 3 points while ranked 6th in the nation) playing without its star quarterback Kellen Clemens lost 17–14 to a surging Oklahoma squad that had won six out of its last seven. In 2004, one-loss California was blown out by Big 12 Texas Tech, 45–31. In 2003, Big 12 third-place Texas was knocked off by Pac-10 second-place Washington State, led by Matt Kegel. In 2010, Nebraska went to the Holiday Bowl after losing the Big 12 Championship Game and faced a 6–6 Washington team that they had beaten 56–21 during the regular season, but lost the rematch 19–7.
According to Bruce Binkowski, the Holiday's executive director, average ticket prices for the Holiday Bowl would have had to have been increased from $60 to $100 to match the Alamo Bowl's offer of $3 million (the Holiday Bowl was only offering $2.35 million). The now-Pac-12 and Big 12 retain their contracts with the Holiday Bowl, however, and the 2010-2013 matchups will pit the #3 Pac-12 team against the #5 Big 12 team.
One of the more popular (yet unusual) events associated with the Holiday Bowl is the Wiener Nationals, the national championships for the U.S. dachshund racing circuit. The game is also celebrated with the Big Bay Balloon Parade, organized by the Port of San Diego and currently sponsored by San Diego County Credit Union.