Penn State Football

Despite missing out on College Football Playoff, Penn State ‘excited’ about Fiesta Bowl

Franklin excited for Fiesta Bowl, focused on Washington

Penn State football coach James Franklin talks about how the team is preparing for the Fiesta Bowl against Washington.
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Penn State football coach James Franklin talks about how the team is preparing for the Fiesta Bowl against Washington.

Trace McSorley swore he wasn’t disappointed — he didn’t hesitate when expressing his excitement to be playing in a New Year’s Six bowl.

The Penn State quarterback is looking forward to getting to Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, giving the Nittany Lions another chance to compete on a big stage after last year’s trip to the Rose Bowl. He isn’t taking the opportunity for granted despite missing out on the College Football Playoff.

“Overwhelmingly, yeah, we wanted to be in that conversation in the playoffs,” McSorley acknowledged. “But we’re happy to have back-to-back 10-win seasons and being able to go to a New Year’s Six bowl and keep our team together for another week for a game that’s one of the most historic in college football.”

Added punter Blake Gillikin: “We won 10 games. Not many teams can say that. ... We’re really pleased with where we’re at right now.”

The No. 9 Nittany Lions (10-2) will take on No. 11 Washington (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Penn State and Washington both started the season as College Football Playoff contenders after memorable 2016 seasons. Last year, Washington earned a spot in the playoff as the No. 4 seed, with Penn State right behind the Huskies at No. 5. Both teams spent time in the top 5 of the AP Poll early this year, but they ultimately didn’t factor into the national championship discussion.

“There’s very few teams at the end of the season that end happy,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “Really, you got one that’s truly happy.”

While Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama are still chasing after the national title, the Nittany Lions are trying to look on the bright side. Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton said he is looking forward to bonding with his teammates in the warm weather ahead of the Fiesta Bowl. Tight end Mike Gesicki felt similarly.

They both hope to finish their careers on a high note after losing to Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl and USC in the Rose Bowl the past two seasons. Gesicki said he can still remember the sound of the confetti shooting behind him as he walked off the field at the Rose Bowl.

He doesn’t want that to happen again. Neither does Brandon Smith, a fifth-year senior who’ll be playing in his final game. When those three arrived in Happy Valley, at different times, the Nittany Lions couldn’t even reach a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions.

Smith remembers his team “scratching” its way to three straight seven-win seasons before breaking through with an 11-win campaign and trip to the Rose Bowl last year. So, if the Nittany Lions can beat the Huskies for another 11-win season, Smith said it would be “special.”

“Two 11-win seasons to end on,” Smith said. “I think a lot of people in the country would be pretty thankful for that.”

Added Gesicki: “There’s probably 100 teams in the country that would die to go 10-2 and go to a New Year’s Six bowl. So it’s something we’re excited about.”

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