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Bowl season is on in Arizona

By Jose Romero - Dec 04, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Sunday was the day the college bowl pairing were announced, and as always, greater Phoenix will host two games this month. 

The marquee matchup is of course, the annual Fiesta Bowl. While the game is not a final-four playoff matchup, No. 11 Washington vs. No. 9 Penn State should be a big draw on Dec. 30. 

The Cactus Bowl and Arizona Bowl are also on tap this month. The Cactus Bowl will be played in Phoenix Dec. 26 while the Arizona Bowl is in Tucson Dec. 29. 

The Nittany Lions have won all six Fiesta Bowls in which they have appeared, while the Huskies, Pac-12 champions a year ago, are in the game for the first time. The two programs are steeped in tradition, with Washington representing the Pac-12 in a Pac-12 market.

Penn State boasts star running back Saquon Barkley, who garnered Heisman Trophy attention this season, while Washington is led by quarterback Jake Browning and some major talent on offense. 

"I knew we would have a great matchup," said Mike Nealy, Fiesta Bowl executive director. "The Washington fans... we know that they're excited to come and we're looking forward to that. They know how to get here. Penn State is back after a few years of adjustments."

There had been speculation that USC and/or Ohio State would be featured in the Fiesta Bowl, to be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, but those teams were selected for the Cotton Bowl in Texas. 

The Fiesta Bowl Committee also runs the annual Cactus Bowl, and this year's game features UCLA of the Pac-12 hosting Kansas State of the Big 12. The game will take place at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, on the night of Dec. 26. 

The Bruins are in the Cactus Bowl for the first time. They'll be led by interim coach Jedd Fisch, who took over for the recently fired Jim Mora after UCLA lost to USC in the annual rivalry game. 

Fisch is bridging the gap between Mora's departure and the arrival of new head coach Chip Kelly, who led Oregon to unprecedented heights in recent years.

"What we’re really excited about here is our coaches and players have been through a lot the last few weeks, and to be able to unite one last time in 2017 as the Bruin football team and go compete on ESPN in this football game is just really exciting for all of us," Fisch said.

"So I think we’ve got a team that’s really excited for the challenge, and we know it’s going to be a challenge. And we have a team that’s really looking forward to spending Christmas in the desert and an opportunity to go out there and compete with Kansas State."

The venerable Bill Snyder leads the Wildcats, who have played in the Fiesta and Cactus Bowls a combined six times. 

"The opportunities that are provided through the Bowl are very special to all of our program," Snyder said. "People have been very gracious to us, and we look forward to returning."

The Arizona Bowl enters its third year at Tucson's Arizona Stadium, home of the Pac-12 Wildcats. It features two regional teams, Utah State of the Mountain West and New Mexico State of the Sun Belt Conference.

The Aggies went 6-6 this season and earned a bowl game spot for the first time since 1960, so a strong contingent of fans could make the drive west on Interstate 10 to Tucson to witness program history.

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