Penn State, Washington make Fiesta Bowl a marquee matchup
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Penn State and Washington had national-title aspirations dashed with midseason losses.
They shook off those losses to reach the Fiesta Bowl, giving the big game in the desert another marquee matchup.
Penn State's yard-churning rushing offense against Washington's stingy defense.
The Huskies' high-scoring offense against the Nittany Lions' low-scoring defense.
A one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner in Penn State's Saquon Barkley. Record-breaking receiver/punt returner Dante Pettis of Washington. Prolific quarterback on both teams: Jake Browning for Washington; Trace McSorley at Penn State.
Program-building coaches in Washington's Chris Petersen and Penn State's James Franklin.
What's not to like?
“Although both of our programs have been a part of national championship discussions over the last couple of years and they were in the playoffs, I do feel like both teams are really excited about this opportunity and playing in this game,” Franklin said.
Penn State (10-2) won its first seven games to reach No. 2 in the AP Top 25, only to drop out of the national-title conversation with consecutive losses to Ohio State and Michigan State.
The Nittany Lions closed the season with three consecutive victories to have a chance to earn the program's first win in a major bowl since 2006.
Washington (10-2) was in the CFP conversation for the second consecutive season after winning its first six games and reaching No. 5 in the AP poll.
The Huskies had a surprising loss to unranked Arizona State to drop back and followed with a loss to Stanford to finish No. 11 in the final CFP rankings.
Keep an eye on Washington's Pettis. He's one of the greatest punt returners in NCAA history and a threat to score any time he touches the ball.
Pettis holds the NCAA record with nine punt returns for touchdowns and has four this season, one short of the single-season record.
He also was the Huskies' leading receiver with 62 catches for 721 yards and seven touchdowns.
Penn State's Barkley was one of the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy before a couple of so-so games knocked him out of the conversation. The junior still had a superb season, finishing with 2,154 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns, including 1,134 yards rushing.
Washington has been one of the nation's top defenses the past few years, and this year, the Huskies' were best in the FBS against the running, allowing 92.3 yards per game.
The defense is anchored by 6-foot-5, 340-pound lineman Vita Vea, named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year by conference coaches and a third-team AP All-American.
Washington was one of the nation's top scoring teams at 36.9 points per game. Browning and RB Myles Gaskin had a lot to do with it. Browning threw for 2,544 yards and 18 touchdowns with five interceptions while completing 69 percent of his passes. Gaskin ran for 1,282 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
Barkley won't be the only player Washington's defense will have to key on.
McSorley had a strong senior season, throwing for 3,228 yards and 26 touchdowns with a completion percentage of 65 percent. He also was Penn State's second-leading rusher with 431 yards and 11 more scores.