The first of two New Year’s Six bowl games on Friday takes place in Glendale, Arizona, as No. 11 Washington will square off against No. 9 Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Huskies (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) fell short of repeating as Pac-12 North champions in 2017 but were in the mix through the end of the regular season and have been a part of the College Football Playoff discussion for two years — including last season when they lost to Alabama in the Peach Bowl semifinal. The Nittany Lions (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) hung around the playoff mix all year as well, but consecutive losses at Ohio State and Michigan State in the middle of the season kept them from repeating as Big Ten East champs.
Date: Saturday, Dec. 30 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium — Glendale, Arizona
TV: ESPN | Live stream: Watch ESPN, Watch ESPN apps
Washington: Quarterback Jake Browning and the Huskies’ offense dominates the headlines, but the real reason for their success this year has been a stellar defense. Led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Vita Vea up front, they’ve given up just 277.4 yards per game (No. 5 in the nation) and 14.5 points per game (No. 6). But take nothing away from the offense. Browning has been a marvel of efficiency, tossing 18 touchdowns and only five picks, for a passer rating of 154.25. Running back Myles Gaskin has been a scoring machine with 19 touchdowns on the ground, and Dante Pettis has been awesome as a receiver (721 yards, seven touchdowns) and punt returner (428 yards, four touchdowns).
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are led by electric running back Saquon Barkley and his 1,134 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns, along with dual-threat quarterback Trace McSorely’s 37 total touchdowns (26 passing, 11 rushing). Downfield, there’s plenty of balance in Happy Valley with DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson each notching 48 catches and Barkley hauling in 47. The Nittany Lions defense has been solid this year as well, giving up just 329.3 yards per game, 4.69 yards per play and 15.5 points per game. Don’t think that this isn’t a big game for coach James Franklin. The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten title last year but were left out in favor of No. 4 seed Washington, not Ohio State. Franklin will remember that.
I’ll take the Nittany Lions to win a wild, fun and entertaining affair in suburban Phoenix. Franklin will use last season’s snub as motivation, the defense will get to Browning and force a couple of mistakes and Barkley and Co. will pull away in the fourth quarter for a win and cover in a fun game involving two very good teams. Pick: Nittany Lions (-2.5)
The Nittany Lions average 41.6 points per game while allowing 15.5 points per game.RB Saquon Barkley is the team’s biggest star. Barkley has 1,134 rushing yards with 16 touchdowns, 594 receiving yards with 3 touchdowns, 2 kick return touchdowns and a passing touchdown.QB Trace McSorley is 252-for-386 passing for 3,228 yards, 26 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also has 431 rushing yards and 11 scores.Four Penn State players have at least 500 receiving yards. TE Mike Gesicki is first on the team with 51 receptions, posting 501 yards and a team-high 9 touchdowns. DaeSean Hamilton leads with 747 receiving yards and 7 scores. Juwan Johnson adds 48 receptions, 635 yards and a touchdown.
On defense, Jason Cabinda has 84 total tackles with 6 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Shareef Miller leads the Nittany Lions with 10 tackles for loss and has 4 sacks.One season after reaching the College Football Playoff, Washington is looking for another Top 10 finish.The Huskies average 36.9 points per game and give up 14.5 points per game.
QB Jake Browning is 212-for-308 passing for 2,544 yards, 18 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He also has 6 rushing scores.RB Myles Gaskin leads the ground game with 1,282 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Dante Pettis is the clear No. 1 target in the passing attack. Pettis has 62 catches for 721 yards and 7 touchdowns.Ben Burr-Kirven leads the Huskies with 79 total tackles. Tevis Bartlett has 12 tackles for loss and Vita Vea has 38 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.Penn State and Washington have met two times previously, with the Nittany Lions winning both matchups. In the most recent, Penn State beat Washington 13-10 in the 1983 Aloha Bowl.Penn State is a perfect 6-0 in the Fiesta Bowl, last playing against Texas on Jan. 1, 1997. Earlier, in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, the Nittany Lions beat Miami, 14-10, to win the national championship.