What you need to know: The Fiesta Bowl

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this season.

Game details: Fiesta Bowl vs. Washington, 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 30, ESPN.

Records: Penn State 10-2 overall (7-2 Big Ten); Washington 10-2 overall (7-2 PAC-12).

Venue: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 74 degrees, sunny and pleasant.

Overview: On paper, this looks like a great matchup. The Huskies simply weren’t as consistent as they were during their playoff season in 2016. However, they are still an extremely dangerous team. The Huskies’ offense has weapons all over the field and the defense features a stingy front four. This is Washington’s eighth consecutive bowl bid. Although it isn’t looked at as an elite program, the Huskies are on the rise. As for Penn State, a total of four points and two losses are the only things keeping the Nittany Lions from the College Football Playoff. This is a nice consolation prize, however, and head coach James Franklin wants to erase the lousy bowl memories from the season ago, when they squandered a big lead to USC in one of the greatest Rose Bowls of all-time.

The line: Penn State – 1½.

All-time series: Penn State leads the series, 2-0.

Last time they met (1983): Coming off a National Championship, Penn State salvaged its season with a 13-10 win at the Aloha Bowl.  

Penn State wins if: Play the way it has down the stretch. In its final three games of the regular season, the Nittany Lions dominated the opposition, winning by scores of 35-6 (Rutgers), 56-44 (Nebraska) and 66-3 (Maryland). The Nittany Lions’ offense will have to survive its first game without Joe Moorhead, but that shouldn’t be a problem as long as No. 26 is on the field.

Washington wins if: The defense dominates. As previously mentioned, the Huskies have an awesome defensive front four, led by Vita Vea. Make no mistake about it, Penn State’s O-line will have its hands full. It will be a real challenge, but if the Nittany Lions can win the battle in the trenches, it has a very good chance to win the game.

Count on: A Saquon Barkley TD. In what will likely be his last game as a Nittany Lion, we like Barkley to score. It might come on a rush, a reception or a return, but look for Barkley to hit paydirt one way or another.

Keep an eye on: Tommy Stevens. The backup QB is listed as “Lion” on the latest depth chart. We’re guessing new offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has a few ideas for the talented role player.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State has never lost a Fiesta Bowl. The Nittany Lions are 6-0 and their first appearance in the game came in 1977.

Saquon Barkley record watch: Barkley enters the game 226 yards shy of Penn State’s all-time rushing record, which is held by Evan Royster. Royster has 3,932 yards, while Barkley has racked up 3,706. While it’s unlikely that Barkley will be able to come up with 226 yards necessary to beat Royster’s mark, stranger things have happened.

Stay tuned.

 

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