GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona’s snap-it-fast offense is one of the most productive and entertaining in college football.
Boise State has a new coach, but the Broncos still know a thing or two about offense, continuing to score prodigious amounts of points.
For a bowl game on the outside of the College Football Playoff rotation this season, the Fiesta Bowl did pretty well for itself.
And for two teams that are supposedly in transition, playing in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games isn’t bad, either.
“I told them (the players) this is different,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “A game is a game, but a Big Six bowl game, it’s different.”
Boise State rose to prominence under coach Chris Petersen, in part because of its success in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Broncos had one of the most memorable bowl games by beating Oklahoma with a pair of late trick plays in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and finished off a 14-0 season by beating previously undefeated TCU with more trick plays in the 2010 game.
This season was expected to be one of rebuilding after Petersen left for Washington and Bryan Harsin, a former player and assistant at Boise State, took over as coach.
The Broncos got off to a rocky start, losing their opener to Ole Miss and another game to Air Force. But after opening 3-2, Boise State reeled off eight straight wins to win the Mountain West Conference championship and move up to No. 21 in The Associated Press poll.
And, as the top-ranked champion from a group of five conferences without New Year’s bowl contracts, the Broncos (11-2) earned a spot back in the Fiesta Bowl.
“I bet you ask 95 percent of our team, they would say this is the reason they came to Boise State, because of the Fiesta Bowl and watching our team play in it,” Harsin said. “I know what this game can do for us. I know how powerful it is for us.”
It’s a pretty big deal for Rodriguez and the Wildcats, too.
The Wildcats had been mired in mediocrity before Rodriguez arrived in 2011, occasionally doing well enough to play in the postseason, though typically in lower-tier bowls.
Rodriguez was in a need of a little redemption of his own after a tumultuous stint at Michigan.
Arizona had a solid start under Rodriguez, winning bowl games in each of his first two seasons, and took another step in the progression by putting itself in position for a possible College Football Playoff spot.
A blowout loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game spoiled the Wildcats’ playoff chances and nearly bumped them out of a New Year’s bowl.
Despite the loss, Arizona (10-3) finished 10th in the CFP rankings — 12th in The AP poll — and earned a spot in a large bowl for the first time since the 1994 Fiesta Bowl.
“We want to have the best football program in the country at some point,” said Rodriguez, who was named the Pac-12’s coach of the year. “We’re not there right now, but I think we’ve made progress in the last couple years toward that.”
A few more things to look for in Wednesday’s Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium:
CONTAINING AJAYI: A top priority for Arizona’s defense will be slowing Boise State running back Jay Ajayi. The junior finished the regular season tied for first nationally with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon with 13.4 points per game and was fifth with 1,689 yards rushing. Ajayi announced last week that he’s skipping his senior season for the NFL, so he’ll want to go out with a big game.
PROLIFIC OFFENSES: The game will feature two of the nation’s most prolific offenses. Boise State was ninth nationally with 39.8 points per game and 13th in total yards at 496.1. Arizona was 25th in both scoring and total yards at 34.8 points and 461.5 yards per game.
SCOOBY DOES: One player to keep an eye out for is Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright. Lightly recruited out of high school, he became one of the best defensive players in the country at Arizona, earning unanimous All-America honors, along with the Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik awards. Wright is high-motor and always around the football, so he won’t be hard to find.
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