Arizona excited for Alamo Bowl putting program front and center in Texas, Big 12

Dec 27, 2023, 9:56 AM

Jedd Fisch, Arizona Wildcats...

Head coach Jedd Fisch of the Arizona Wildcats watches the action during the second half against the Utah Utes at Arizona Stadium on November 18, 2023 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Arizona will be in unfamiliar territory at the Alamo Bowl.

The Wildcats — two seasons removed from winning only one game — face traditional power Oklahoma on Thursday in San Antonio.

Jedd Fisch, the third-year head coach who has directed Arizona’s turnaround, said just eight of his players have competed in a bowl game, and those are all transfers.

“This is a brand-new experience for a majority of our team,” Fisch said. “It’s a brand new experience for our players. We want to make sure that our players understand it is a privilege to play in a bowl game. It is a celebration of a job well done.”

The 14th-ranked Wildcats (9-3) take a six-game win streak into the matchup with No. 12 Oklahoma (10-2). Four of those victories came against teams that were ranked at the time they played — Washington State, Oregon State, UCLA and Utah.

“There’s nobody in college football right now that’s playing better football the last half of the season than the University of Arizona,” Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said.

Arizona is making its first bowl appearance since 2015. It will be the Wildcats’ final game as a member of the Pac-12 before joining the Big 12 next season.

Arizona hopes to take advantage of the extra exposure to a state that includes Big 12 programs TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech and Houston.

“It will probably be a kickoff for us into the Big 12, this game, and really being able to see and show our players and let the state of Texas see the type of energy that our players play with,” Fisch said. “And hopefully, the high school coaches in the state will be excited about sending their players to us.”

It will be Oklahoma’s final game as a Big 12 member before joining the Southeastern Conference next season. The Sooners have won seven national titles and are making their 25th consecutive bowl appearance.

Arizona believes those factors would make getting a win extra special.

“This is a prestigious program in college football, so got a lot of respect for them,” Arizona quarterback Noah Fifita said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to not only play because they’re leaving the Big 12, but being able to play Oklahoma in general is a great opportunity, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Oklahoma gets a peek at top recruit QB Jackson Arnold vs. Arizona in Alamo Bowl

Five-star true freshman Jackson Arnold is Oklahoma’s new starting quarterback now that Dillon Gabriel has transferred to Oregon. Arnold has completed 75% of his passes in limited action this season.

“Obviously, they’re going to run their offense,” Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said. “Whatever they put on tape, that’s what they’re going to come out in. We’re prepared for other things, knowing the history of the coordinator where he came from, so we’re prepared in that way.”

Oklahoma elevated offensive analyst Seth Littrell to offensive coordinator after Jeff Lebby left to become head coach at Mississippi State.

Littrell was head coach at North Texas from 2016 to 2022 and was an assistant at Arizona under then-head coach Mike Stoops from 2009-11, rising to co-offensive coordinator in 2010 and OC in 2011.

Stutsman returns for Sooners

Oklahoma linebacker Danny Stutsman has returned after speculation that he would leave for the NFL. Stutsman was a third-team AP All-American this season. He ranked second in the Big 12 in tackles with 9.0 per game and had 16.0 tackles for loss this season.

Stutsman was leaning toward leaving before changing his mind.

“When it was time for pen to go to paper, it just didn’t feel right,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to leave this program, all that we’ve built going into year three with coach Venables. I wasn’t ready to leave just yet.”

A final ‘Stooooops!’

Oklahoma receiver Drake Stoops will play his final game as a Sooner. The son of former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops made a name for himself by becoming a first-team All-Big 12 selection this season.

The sixth-year senior ranks second in the Big 12 with 78 receptions and third in the conference with 880 yards receiving.

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