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History: The 40th playing of the Fiesta Bowl matches the Connecticut Huskies against the Oklahoma Sooners. Since 2007 the game has been played in Glendale, Arizona at the University of Phoenix stadium, which contains a natural grass playing field (or, if you’re really a turf enthusiast, it’s Tifway 419 Bermuda hybrid planted in early May 2006 using stolons in an 11″ bed of USGA sand mix with inclusions, according to the bowl’s official website). The Big 12 currently is the chosen conference to send a representative each year, and it’s well worth it, as both attending schools receive a payout of $17 million.
Arizona State won the inaugural Fiesta Bowl back in 1971, as well as the games in 1972, 1973, and 1975. Ohio State appeared in its first Fiesta Bowl in 1980, a 31-19 loss to Penn State. The Buckeyes rebounded with a victory over Pittsburgh on January 2, 1984 (coincidentally, the day of my birth – how appropriate!). Ohio State would not visit Arizona for the game again until that fateful night in 2003 that resulted in a double-overtime victory over the Miami Hurricanes and our first national championship in over 30 years. Last year’s contest pitted Boise State against TCU, and ended in a relatively low-scoring 17-10 win for the Broncos.
Tostitos is the well-known sponsor for the Fiesta Bowl, and tortilla chips with salsa is in fact a delicious combination. A minor hullabaloo arose in 2006 when, in a classic case of “sponsorship becomes a bad thing,” students at BYU led by a professor Dennis Martin burned some bags of Tostitos in protest of the Cougars being passed over for the game despite being ranked #5, ahead of the chosen Penn State Nittany Lions, who were ranked #7. Reportedly the smell of roasting chips caused many mouths to water, and one freshman even suggested a run to the local store for some chips and salsa so that everyone could sit around snacking while they enjoyed the fire, but he was silenced by an upperclassman.
Previous sponsors of the game include Sunkist and IBM, and clearly nothing says “fiesta” like Big Blue. Loosen that top button on your Oxford!
Connecticut: This will be the Huskies’ third consecutive year now with a bowl appearance. Last year was a 20-7 victory over South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl (let’s order some pizza…dot com!). However, it should be noted (and it has been) that UConn is the only team playing in a BCS bowl that wasn’t even in the final BCS rankings.
The team is driven by running back Jordan Todman, second in the nation in rushing this season, who carried the ball 302 times for 1574 yards and 14 touchdowns. At 5’9 and 193 pounds, Todman is probably not going to plow over Oklahoma’s line, but he’s clearly a threat to open up the game for the Huskies.
Make no mistake, the Huskies are a true underdog. They only entered Division I in 2002 and only logged their first win over a ranked opponent in 2007. They got shutout by Louisville this year. They lost to TTUN. However, don’t go too far with the analysis. Naysayers of UConn who bring up arguments that go something like “so-and-so beat so-and-so, and UConn lost to them” should look to the Huskies’ game against Cincinnati, where they overpowered the Bearcats 38-17. In contrast, Oklahoma only beat Cincy by a score of 31-29.
On the other hand, QB Zach Frazer has only thrown five touchdowns all year long, which is one less than Oklahoma starting QB Landry Jones threw in his first collegiate outing.
UConn finished out the year strong, beginning with their signature win on the season, a 16-13 overtime victory over West Virginia. The program has made significant strides over the course of the past few years, and they are the rightful selection for the Fiesta Bowl as champions of the Big East.
So, what does UConn has going in its favor? A five-game win streak, a three-game bowl win streak, a tough defense, a tough run game, and hopefully (for their sake and the sake of the viewers) a bit of underdog attitude. Throw in a trick play or two, and who knows what could happen!
Oklahoma: The Sooners have played in a bowl game now for 12 straight years, and were winners last year over Stanford in the Sun Bowl. However, the teams struggles in BCS bowl outings are well-documented, as they have lost in five straight opportunities.
The team started out with six straight wins this season before losing to Missouri, and after a second hiccup at Texas A&M went on to close out the year by winning their last four games. The last four were especially significant considering that they were hard-fought wins over highly ranked Oklahoma State and Nebraska.
The previously mentioned Jones has thrown the ball more than any other quarterback in the country, and has seen 35 of those attempts result in touchdowns. Correspondingly, receiver Ryan Broyles led the nation in receptions, and was on the receiving end of 13 of Jones’ 35 TD passes. The running game is nothing to scoff at either, as Demarco Murray carried the ball for over 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season.
Oklahoma’s high-powered offense is balanced a bit by a less impressive defense. The team does have some studs on D (safety Quinton Carter, defensive end Jeremy Beal, linebacker Travis Lewis), but they still give up over 150 yards rushing per game and almost 22 points on average.
To summarize, Oklahoma wants to prove that they can win in the big bowl games. UConn wants to prove that they belong in the big bowl games. So who wants it more? All things considered, UConn could take this game and it wouldn’t be that big of a surprise, right? Right?
Who are we picking?
Smart money is on the Sooners in this one.