For a team that finished the regular season on a five-game losing streak, Texas Tech couldn’t have asked for much better than what comes next.
The Red Raiders get to spend Christmas and the days after in sunny San Diego. And the opportunity, at least, is there for them to end the season by upsetting a top-20 football team.
On Sunday, Tech accepted an invitation to play Pac-12 Conference South Division champion Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.
“Going to a great city like San Diego is going to be fun for our entire team,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I know the guys are all pumped up about it and have a great opponent to play, so it’s an exciting way to end the year.”
The game is scheduled for 9:15 p.m. CST on Dec. 30 at Qualcomm Stadium. It will be the last of four consecutive games televised that day by ESPN.
Tech is 7-5 and finished sixth in the Big 12 Conference with a 4-5 record.
Arizona State is 10-3 after a 38-14 loss to Stanford in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship game. The Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South by two games, going 8-1 in conference play. They were ranked No. 16 in The Associated Press Top 25 released Sunday and No. 17 in the USA Today coaches poll.
ASU’s Todd Graham, a former Texas high school coach at Mesquite Poteet and Allen, was named the Pac-12 coach of the year.
“They’re a great team,” Kingsbury said. “I’ve known coach Graham since I was at Houston and he was at Tulsa. I’ve always been really impressed by his teams. Everywhere he’s been, he’s won. He’s a great defensive mind, and now they’re playing great offense over there with a bunch of really good skill players, so it’ll be a huge challenge for us.”
The two teams last met in a 1999 season opener at ASU, the Sun Devils winning 31-13. That was the first college game for Kingsbury, then a redshirt freshman quarterback who played backup minutes.
Before the loss Saturday, Arizona State was on a seven-game winning streak in which it had held six opponents to fewer than 25 points. Senior defensive tackle Will Sutton, a consensus all-American in 2012, was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year for the second year in a row.
Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly, a junior, has thrown for 3,510 yards and 28 touchdowns, with sophomore Jaelen Strong having caught 71 passes for 1,094 yards and seven TDs.
The Sun Devils also have gotten big contributions from two players who played Texas high school football. Senior running back Marion Grice from Aldine Nimitz has rushed for 996 yards and 14 touchdowns and caught 50 passes for 438 yards and six TDs. Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez from Deer Park has converted 22 of 26 field goals — identical numbers to those of Tech kicker Ryan Bustin.
Grice missed the Pac-12 title game with a lower-leg injury.
Kingsbury said he was involved in recruiting Grice when Kingsbury was on the University of Houston staff and Grice was at Blinn College in Brenham.
“We were really serious on him,” Kingsbury said. “He’s a tremendous player. That’s what we loved about him was what he could do receiving and running the football. He’s had a great career out there.”
The two teams are asked to arrive on Christmas day, according to Mark Neville, the Holiday Bowl associate executive director. The combined payout for the two sides is $4.65 million, Neville said, to be divided equally.
Tech’s share goes into the Big 12 bowl-revenue pool.
Tech has received an allotment of 11,000 tickets, which it immediately put on sale through its athletic ticket office and www.texastech.com. Prices range from $40 to $90.
Before the weekend, Tech and Minnesota seemed to be headed toward a Texas Bowl rematch in Houston. The Texas Bowl did, in fact, wind up with Minnesota for the second year in a row but was left without an eligible team from the Big 12 when the league had two teams invited to BCS games.
The Texas Bowl subbed Syracuse for the Big 12 spot.
The Red Raiders are hoping the trip to the West Coast will add some enthusiasm considering they haven’t won since Oct. 26.
“I feel like that’s going to give a lot of guys a lot of energy,” linebacker Will Smith said. “At first, we were a little disappointed finding out we might have to go back to the Texas Bowl. Not that the Texas Bowl’s bad. It’s just, you want to experience something new.
“For that to be San Diego — a lot of guys haven’t been to California or a nice city like San Diego — so it’s a great deal to go out there.”
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