Penn State fans, pack your suitcases and golf clubs. The Nittany Lions are headed to Arizona.
The No. 9 Nittany Lions are set to face No. 11 Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, played at 4 p.m. Dec. 30 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“We are honored and humbled to be a part of this game,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said Sunday night. “Our players, our coaches, the administration — President (Eric) Barron; Sandy (Barbour), our athletic director. We couldn’t be more excited. We’re blessed for this opportunity, great way to end the season. ... We’re just very appreciative of the opportunity to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Appreciative of the opportunity to represent the Big Ten and looking forward to getting out there as soon as we possibly can and start preparing.”
Both Penn State (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) and Washington (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) are at-large selections for the New Year’s Six contest.
The Nittany Lions are 6-0 in the Fiesta Bowl with wins capping the 1977, 1980, 1981, 1986, 1991 and 1997 seasons. Of course, on Jan. 1, 1987, Penn State captured the national championship with a 14-10 win over Miami.
“The history is great, and we’re excited to be back there and I’m excited to be going for the first time,” Franklin said. “But at the end of the day it’s going to come down to the University of Washington’s 2017 football team and Penn State University’s 2017 football team and all the great players and coaches that we have in our programs.”
The Nittany Lions cap their second consecutive season of double-digit wins with another postseason battle with a Pac-12 opponent. Penn State fell 52-49 in a thrilling Rose Bowl a year ago, despite Saquon Barkley’s monster performance.
Washington is trying to finish an up-and-down 2017 campaign on a positive note.
Like Penn State, the Huskies had high expectations entering the season. Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jake Browning and 1,000-yard rusher Myles Gaskin, Washington was supposed to contend for a Pac-12 title and spot in the College Football Playoff. The Huskies lost 24-7 in the semifinals to Alabama last year.
But this go-round, Washington fell on the road at Arizona State and Stanford — nixing its chances to reach the conference title game, let alone the playoff. Still, the Huskies routed Washington State 41-14 in the Apple Cup to close the regular season slate.
“There was a lot of jumping around and smiling faces,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said of finding out that the Huskies would play in the Fiesta Bowl, “until we found out that it was James Franklin’s Penn State Nittany Lions. Then we said, uh-oh, be careful what you wish for.”
Penn State is rolling, too, having defeated Maryland 66-3 to finish 10-2.
Both Penn State and Washington got to 11 wins in 2016. The Fiesta Bowl provides an opportunity for one of them to do it again.
“It should be exciting,” Franklin said. “It should be fun.”