ARIZONA FOOTBALL

Arizona football invited to Alamo Bowl to play Oklahoma

Dec 3, 2023, 1:19 PM | Updated: 3:45 pm

Arizona Wildcats running back Michael Wiley...

Arizona running back Michael Wiley (6) runs the ball between Arizona State defensive backs Chris Edmonds (5) and Khoury Bethley (15) in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Arizona Wildcats will play their first bowl game since 2017 in the Valero Alamo Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners to wrap head coach Jedd Fisch’s third season of his rebuild.

The game in San Antonio, Texas, will take place at 7:15 p.m. MST on Thursday, Dec. 28. It will air on ESPN.

The No. 14 Wildcats (9-3, 7-2 Pac-12) depart the Pac-12 and head for the Big 12 in 2024 after heading into the final 2023 regular season weekend as potential title game participants.

It took an Oregon victory against Oregon State the night before Arizona’s 59-23 win over rival Arizona State last Saturday to keep the Wildcats from playing Washington in the conference title game.

“We’re excited,” Fisch said. “We just got done with our end-of-the-season banquet and couldn’t have been happier to share with our team the opportunity to play in this game. We’ve had quite a season around here and the last six games have certainly been a highlight of what’s been a fantastic 12-game season. But we couldn’t be more thrilled to take on coach Venables’ team. We have all the respect in the world for Oklahoma and all the things that Oklahoma stands for.”

In the Alamo Bowl, the Wildcats face a departing Big 12 team in No. 12 Oklahoma, which went 10-2 this season with losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State. Oklahoma notably beat the then-No. 3 Texas Longhorns, who finished 12-1 and made the College Football Playoff.

“I’m very aware of how good of a defense they are and what they’re going to be and how they’re going to cause all sorts of troubles for us,” Fisch added. “I’m excited about both teams the way the teams score and also the way the teams defend.”

Arizona has a 0-1 record in the Alamo Bowl with a 36-10 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2010.

Threading Arizona’s last bowl game appearance to Wildcats’ 2023 resurgence

Arizona last appeared in the Foster Farms Bowl in 2017, a 38-35 loss to Purdue for a team coached by Rich Rodriguez.

Kevin Sumlin took over the Wildcats as head coach the next season after hostile workplace negotiations led to Rodriguez’s sudden departure following that bowl appearance, but Sumlin went 9-20 with the Wildcats from 2018 through the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before being fired.

The Wildcats went 0-5 that season, with a 70-7 loss to the Sun Devils effectively ending Sumlin’s tenure and leading to Fisch’s hire.

Fisch went 1-11 in his first year on the job but watched Arizona find a competitive gear again in 2022 before a major step forward this season.

Wins over ranked Washington State, Oregon State, UCLA and Utah backfilled Arizona’s final six games, all wins.

Quarterback Noah Fifita sparked much of the success, with 2,515 passing yards on 74% completions with 23 touchdowns to five interceptions after taking over midseason for junior Jayden de Laura due to the latter’s injury mid-year.

“We’re playing with 13 starting sophomores out of our 22 players and our recruiting class of ’22 really is the group that got them spearheaded to change in our program,” Fisch said.

“We brought in not only through the high school recruiting, but the transfer portal as well, guys like de Laura, guys like Jacob Cowing, guys like Tanner McLachlan, and then with all the high school recruits as well. We’ve had a quarterback change in the middle of the season really due to injury and we were sitting at 3-1, and then Jayden wound up spraining his ankle, so we wound up having a ton of growth there.

“Offensively we’ve been a good team the past couple years, defensively we made an enormous jump and I’m super proud of the way our defense has played. I think the growth of our team to go from 1-11 to 5-7 to 9-3 really has to do with the way our defense has changed over these three years.”

Fifita’s two Servite (California) High School teammates, receiver Tetairoa McMillan and Jacob Manu, led the team in receiving yards and tackles, respectively.

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