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Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) celebrates a sack as Utah and Washington play in the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah received a pretty good consolation prize for coming up short in the Pac-12 championship game. On Sunday, the 17th-ranked Utes (9-4) accepted an invitation to play in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. They’ll face 22nd-ranked Northwestern (8-5) Dec. 31 (5 p.m., FS1) at SDCCU Stadium.

“We are elated to be invited to the Holiday Bowl and to play an outstanding Northwestern team,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in the announcement. “It is a testament to our players and also our great fan base that we were invited to play in this prestigious game. Our players are deserving to play in a bowl of this caliber and we are especially happy for our exceptional senior class.”

Whittingham added that they’re looking forward to playing in front of a big Utah crowd in San Diego. The game pits division champions from the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences. The Utes went 6-3 to win the Pac-12 South, while the Wildcats posted an 8-1 mark to finish atop the Big Ten West.

" Our players are deserving to play in a bowl of this caliber and we are especially happy for our exceptional senior class. "
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

Both teams lost conference title games. Utah fell to Washington 10-3, while Northwestern dropped a 45-24 decision to Ohio State.

Senior offensive lineman Jackson Barton admitted that the loss in the Pac-12 championship “still kind of stings.” However, he’s glad that the team will get to play another game together.

The Holiday Bowl matchup will mark the third meeting between the programs. The previous contests — both played in Evanston, Illinois — were split. Northwestern prevailed in 1927 and Utah in 1981.

Whittingham knows the Holiday Bowl well. He played in four of them during his career at BYU. He was named Defensive MVP in 1981 and was inducted into the Holiday Bowl’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

After Utah’s 10-3 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night, athletics director Mark Harlan noted that he had been in contact with the Alamo and Holiday bowls and made it “very clear that Ute Nation is strong.”

The message, obviously, resonated as rumors about Utah possible falling to a Pac-12 bowl down the list didn’t materialize. This will be the first time the Utes have played in the Holiday Bowl.

“We travel to support our team in a profound way and very much hope that we get a chance to play in these kind of premier bowl games, recognizing that wherever we go we’ll be honored and we’ll be proud, and we’ll go and get after it,” Harlan said following the Pac-12 game at Levi’s Stadium.

Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher (42) celebrates with teammates after intercepting during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Illinois in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. Northwestern won 24-16. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

“Just give us a city and give us an opponent,” Whittingham said at the time. “We’ll be there and hopefully finish this thing off on a positive.”

Overall, Utah will be making its 22nd appearance in a bowl game. The Utes are 17-4, including an 11-1 mark under Whittingham.

Previous appearances include:

1939 Sun Bowl: Utah 26, New Mexico 0

1947 Pineapple Bowl: Hawaii 19, Utah 16

1964 Liberty Bowl: Utah 32, West Virginia 6

1992 Copper Bowl: Washington State 31, Utah 28

1993 Freedom Bowl: USC 28, Utah 21

1994 Freedom Bowl: Utah 16, Arizona 13

1996 Copper Bowl: Wisconsin 38, Utah 10

1999 Las Vegas Bowl: Utah 17, Fresno State 16

2001 Las Vegas Bowl: Utah 10, USC 6

2003 Liberty Bowl: Utah 17, Southern Miss 0

2005 Fiesta Bowl: Utah 35, Pittsburgh 7

2005 Emerald Bowl: Utah 38, Georgia Tech 10

2006 Armed Forces Bowl: Utah 25, Tulsa 13

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2007 Poinsettia Bowl: Utah 35, Navy 32

2009 Sugar Bowl: Utah 31, Alabama 17

2009 Poinsettia Bowl: Utah 37, California 27

2010 Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State 26, Utah 3

2011 Sun Bowl: Utah 30, Georgia Tech 27 (OT)

2014 Las Vegas Bowl: Utah 45, Colorado State 10

2015 Las Vegas Bowl: Utah 35, BYU 28

2016 Foster Farms Bowl: Utah 26, Indiana 24

2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah 30, West Virginia 14


2018 Holiday Bowl

No. 17 Utah (9-4) vs. No. 22 Northwestern (8-5)

SDCCU Stadium — San Diego

Dec. 31, 5 p.m. MST


Radio: ESPN 700AM