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Penn State

James Franklin downplays Penn State's Fiesta Bowl history as Nittany Lions prepare to return to the desert

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, 3:24 p.m.

Penn State is returning to the Fiesta Bowl, where it claimed one of its greatest victories 31 years ago.

Coach James Franklin recognizes the history, but he's more concerned about preparing for No. 11 Washington in Penn State's seventh all-time Fiesta Bowl appearance Dec. 30.

It was Jan. 2, 1987, when Penn State upset Miami, 14-10, to claim the national championship in the Fiesta Bowl that was played in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.

This year's game will be contested at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

When he was asked if his players might have heard about that game played long before any of them were born, Franklin wasn't so sure.

“With this generation of kids, they know back to about when they were in 9th grade,” he said.

“We have a tremendous history with the Fiesta Bowl, but at the end of the day, it's going to be the 2017 Penn State football team against the 2017 Washington football team.

“History is more for the media and the fans to talk about. The coaches and players are just focused on what we see on tape.”

What he'll see on tape is a 10-2 Washington team that leads the nation in run defense (allowing an average of 92.3 yards per attempt). It's a similar situation to when Penn State played Michigan State and Michigan in the regular season. Those teams were No. 1 in run defense at the time, ranked fifth and 21st now.

“We haven't watched their tape enough to talk about that,” Franklin said of Washington. “It's a challenge, and challenges give you a chance to get better. The Huskies and the Seattle Seahawks, they got it rolling on the defensive side of the ball.”

Washington coach Chris Peterson also is returning to the Fiesta Bowl, where he led Boise State to an upset of Oklahoma in 2007.

“There is no better bowl, and I've been to a bunch of them,” Peterson said. “When we found out, there was a whole lot of jumping around until we found out we were playing the Nittany Lions. Then, it was ‘Uh oh, be careful what you wish for.' ”

No. 9 Penn State (10-2) will make its 48th bowl appearance and fourth in four seasons under Franklin.

Penn State will appear in a New Year's Six bowl game for the second consecutive season. The Nittany Lions lost to USC, 52-49, in the Rose Bowl after last season.

Penn State, tied for second in the Big Ten East, lost two games by a total of four points to No. 5 Ohio State, 39-38, and No. 16 Michigan State, 27-24.

No. 11 Washington, tied for second in the Pac-12 North, has losses to unranked Arizona State, 13-7, and No. 13 Stanford, 30-22.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

Penn State coach James Franklin links arms with his players before the team's NCAA college football game against Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in College Park, Md. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP)
Penn State coach James Franklin links arms with his players before the team's NCAA college football game against Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in College Park, Md. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP)
Penn State head coach James Franklin is seen on the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Penn State head coach James Franklin is seen on the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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