There was a great deal of teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling all across Husky nation as the answer to the question of “will they” or “won’t they” lingered. Finally, Selection Sunday has arrived and we know the answer: the 2017 Washington Huskies have qualified for a New Year’s Six game and will take on Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Speculation started late yesterday as to whether or not #11 UW would be able to jump the now-ranked #15 TCU Horned Frogs in order to lay claim to what appeared to be the last NY6 at-large bid available in the CFP selection process. TCU opened Championship Weekend ranked ahead of UW and in the driver’s seat for that bid. All they had to do was hold serve and play a competitive game with Oklahoma to lock up that spot.
But that did not happen. TCU got destroyed by Oklahoma in what became their third loss in their last six games. This convinced the selection committee that UW fit the subjective label of “better team”.
Penn State will prove to be a worthy opponent for the Huskies. The Nittany Lions have spent the entirety of the season ranked around the AP top 10 and were considered the B1G favorite until their loss against then #6 Ohio State in what was a classic shootout. They would go on to lose another heartbreaker to Michigan State the week after in a game marred by an unusual weather delay. Penn State finished the season ranked #9 in the College Football Playoff Ranking.
The opportunity to play Penn State is a great situation for Chris Petersen and his Huskies. Though the Huskies look very similar to the Nittany Lions on paper - UW is ranked #5 in overall S&P+ while Penn State is ranked #6 - it has been Penn State that has garnered the most credibility on the national scene. A combination of big games and strong performances by stars such as RB Saquon Barkley and QB Trace McSorely has resulted in a strong national respect for James Franklin’s team.
This bowl game has implications for UW that extend beyond this season. Keep in mind that UW opens the 2018 regular season against the Auburn Tigers on a “neutral site” in Atlanta Georgia. A win over Penn State would undoubtedly position UW for a final top 10 ranking alongside Auburn and set up an opportunity for a true signature win in a matchup of top 10 teams to open next season.
The Fiesta Bowl was born in 1968 when the old WAC conference decided it needed a post-season opportunity in which to feature its best teams. Since then, the Fiesta has leveraged its location and its accommodations to catapult up the status ladder and to become one of the more prestigious bowls in the nation. It is one of the rotating venues utilized in the College Football Playoff and has featured matchups involving two top 25 ranked teams dating all the way back to 1979. Last year’s Fiesta Bowl was a CFP game won by Clemson over Ohio State 31-0. UW has never played in the Fiesta Bowl.
That Ohio State played in the Fiesta Bowl is the primary reason that UW is not playing in the Cotton Bowl. Ohio State will play USC in the Cotton Bowl preserving the matchup that we projected but at a different site.
The Fiesta Bowl will be played at 1pm PT on December 30th in Glendale, AZ and broadcast by ESPN.
Let’s hear from you. What do you think of the matchup? Are you planning on getting your tickets and traveling out?