MADISON — Paul Chryst has talked repeatedly since September about how much he has appreciated the players on Wisconsin’s roster for how they work, their resiliency and how they’ve accepted him as their head coach.
He’ll get one more chance to enjoy his players.
Wisconsin found out Sunday that it will make its first appearance in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, squaring off against Pac-12 Conference opponent USC.
The game will be played on Dec.30 at 9:30 p.m. CT and be televised by ESPN.
"Holiday Bowl is a big-time bowl and we're playing against a big-time team that also has great tradition," Chryst said in a teleconference with reporters Sunday. "Our guys are excited ... You earn the right to get to the bowl that you do. Our guys are excited and appreciate what was put in to getting there. What an opportunity to finish this season off playing a great team like USC."
Chryst is the third head coach in school history to lead Wisconsin to a bowl game in his first season.
Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten), which moved up two spots to No.23 in the Associated Press poll Sunday, will bring the nation’s top scoring defense (13.1 ppg) against the Trojans (8-5, 6-3), who won five of their final six in the regular season to tie Utah in the Pac-12 South Division. The Trohans advanced to the league title game by virtue of their 42-24 victory over the Utah, falling to Stanford, 41-22.
USC opened the season No.8 in the AP poll but were unranked by Oct.8 after starting the season 3-2 and 1-2 in the Pac-12. The Trojans fired head coach Steve Sarkisian shortly thereafter and named assistant Clay Helton interim head coach for the final seven games. After going 5-2, he was named the full-time head coach prior to the Pac-12 Championship game.
The Trojans average 449.6 yards per game on offense, having at least three tailbacks with over 450 rushing yards and redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler, who has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,315 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions in 414 attempts. Sophomore JuJu Smith-Schuster has caught a lot of his passes, entering the bowl game with 85 receptions for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I'm looking forward to watching them, as far as our matchups and their matchups," said Chryst. "I've seen bits and pieces of them. Certainly really talented team. I am looking forward to learning about them ... I know it's a heck of a football team. I give them a lot of credit for overcoming what all happened at the beginning of the year and finish the way they did."
The Badgers have never beaten the Trojans in six meetings, which includes a pair of Rose Bowls. The 1962 Rose Bowl that saw No.1 USC beat No.2 Wisconsin, 42-37, is considered one of the greatest games in the bowl's history.
"There's no doubt our guys will be excited and know enough about college football to appreciate the program," said Chryst. "I thought in just talking to our kids when we didn't know who we'd be playing that they'd be excited. More excited? I think any time now that it becomes real, you know who you are playing, they are going to be really excited about it."
Wisconsin is 12-14 (.462) all-time in bowl games but are coming off an emotional 34-31 overtime victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Athletic director Barry Alvarez coached the team after Gary Andersen resigned to take the job at Oregon State.
Chryst led Pittsburgh to three bowl appearances in his three seasons. The Panthers loss the BBVA Compass Bowl in 2012, won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2013 and lost the Armed Forces Bowl last season. Chryst did not coach last season after accepting the Wisconsin job, watching the game from the stands while current UW offensive line coach Joe Rudolph held the interim label.
Wisconsin will get 15 bowl practices and 31 days between games to prepare for USC.
"We've got a chance to get more healthy, and I think there could be growth within that," said Chryst. "The opportunity we have is to make sure we do grow, and hopefully get better from our last game."
By virtue of its come-from-behind 16-13 win over Iowa in last night’s Big Ten Championship game, Michigan State (12-1) earned the No.3 seed in the College Football Playoff and will face No.2 Alabama (12-1) in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. The Crimson Tide beat the Badgers, 35-17, at the venue to start the season.
The Hawkeyes (12-1) got a nice consolation prize by being selected to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1991. The Hawkeyes will face Stanford (11-2), which beat USC to win the Pac-12 championship.
After winning the inaugural College Football Playoff last season, Ohio State (11-1) will face Notre Dame (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl.
Other Big Ten bowl matchups include: Michigan (9-3) vs. Florida (10-3) in the Citrus Bowl, Northwestern (10-2) vs. Tennessee (8-4) in the Outback Bowl, Penn State (7-5) vs Georgia (9-3) in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Indiana (6-6) vs Duke (7-5) in the Pinstripe Bowl, Nebraska (5-7) vs. UCLA (8-4) in the Foster Farms Bowl and Minnesota (5-7) vs. Central Michigan (7-5) in the Quick Lanes Bowl