The Big Ten and Pac-12 are no strangers in big time bowl games. However, with the Rose Bowl taking up one of the slots in the College Football Playoff, the Penn State Nittany Lions and Washington Huskies will have to meet in the Fiesta Bowl instead.
This will be the second Big Ten/Pac-12 battle in the postseason and is widely regarded as the undercard duel coming after the Cotton Bowl between conference champions Ohio State and USC.
Penn State Bowl History
James Franklin has done a remarkable job getting the Nittany Lions back to the top of the food chain in college football. This will be a second straight season finishing in the top-10 nationally and a second consecutive one with a New Year’s Six bowl game.
PSU only has one bowl win, though, since 2009, that coming in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2014 when the team’s postseason ban from the Jerry Sandusky incident was lifted.
The last time the Nittany Lions won a New Year’s Six/BCS bowl game was in 2005 at the Orange Bowl against Florida State.
Washington Bowl History
Washington has had an even greater wait between big boy bowl wins. The Huskies won the Rose Bowl in 2005 and didn’t return to the New Year’s Six/BCS again until last season when they were in the College Football Playoff. U-Dub was predictably whooped by Alabama, but this challenge is far more attainable.
Washington has alternated bowl wins and losses in the last five years, losing the Peach Bowl, Cactus Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl in 2016, 2014 and 2012, respectively, and winning the 2015 Heart of Dallas Bowl and 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl.
Why Penn State Will Win the Fiesta Bowl
Penn State has the best player on the field in Saquon Barkley. As we’ve seen over the course of the early stages of the bowl season, the team with the best player doesn’t always win, but it generally helps out a lot. Barkley should get the ball in his hands a minimum of 20 times in this game, and it could be at least 30 if PSU has its way. He’s an explosive player as a runner, a receiver and a returner, and he can impact the game in more ways than anyone else on the field.
Let’s give some credit to this Penn State defense, too. This team was stuck in a lot of gritty games this year. Outside of the Ohio State matchup, the Nittany Lions were stingy defensively, holding teams to 329.3 yards and 15.5 points per game.
Why Washington Will Win the Fiesta Bowl
We think U-Dub had one of the most underrated teams in America all season. The Huskies had a few blips on the radar, but for the most part, they were dominant. They won their first six games by at least 16 points before losing to Arizona State, then they followed that up with two more blowout victories before losing to Stanford.
The Huskies also have an incredibly dangerous player in Dante Pettis, who forces teams to punt the ball away from him. He’s the all-time NCAA leader in punt return touchdowns and would love to get his hands on one or two more in the Fiesta Bowl to finish out his career. Pettis’ impact isn’t always felt on the stat sheet, but the fact that opposing punters are so aware of his abilities often creates hidden yards on the field.
Fiesta Bowl Prediction
Little things add up to a lot in the bowl season, and Washington does a lot of those little things right. Jake Browning doesn’t turn the ball over. The team doesn’t fumble often. Penalties don’t often rack up against the Huskies. They dominate in the punt return game.
No, Washington doesn’t have the more talented side in this game, but it’s a good enough team to beat Penn State. Just as the Huskies have a rap against them that they didn’t beat much of anyone this year, the same could be said for the Nittany Lions. They played against two Top 25 teams all season and were beaten by both.
We’ll take our chances with Chris Petersen in a big time game.
Fiesta Bowl Pick: Washington 26, Penn State 23
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