In less than a week, Oregon went from understudy to center stage.
The Ducks got into the Pacific-12 Conference title game only because Washington had to drop out because of coronavirus concerns. Oregon made the most of the opportunity by defeating host USC 31-24 for the championship.
That gave the No. 25 Ducks (4-2) the Pac-12’s automatic berth to a New Year’s Six game. They’ll meet No. 10 Iowa State (8-3) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 in Glendale, Ariz.
“We fought this year,” said Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who was named the MVP of the Pac-12 title game with five tackles and a sack. “So many trials and tribulations. So many things that kept popping up. So many excuses we could have made, and we didn’t flinch. We stuck to the script and got it done.”
Oregon won its first three games before back-to-back losses to Oregon State and California. A matchup with Washington to determine the winner of the Pac-12 North was canceled, leaving the Ducks a half-game behind the Huskies and seemingly destined for a lower-tier bowl game.
That is, until a virus spike in Washington’s athletic department. The Huskies’ loss was the Ducks’ gain.
“We were itching to get back to our kind of football, and we did it (against USC),” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “(We) really just came out with an attitude, came out with a purpose and a mission.”
The Cyclones took a different path to their first January bowl game.
After losing their season opener to Louisiana, the Cyclones won seven of their next eight games before a 27-21 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship.
“From our standpoint, this has been a really special season for our program as we continue to grow over the last couple years,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “We’ve got a great senior class made up of 60 seniors that have really stayed the course in this program and really led us every step of the way.”
Iowa State has the nation’s leading rusher in Breece Hall, who totaled 1,436 yards and 19 touchdowns. Quarterback Brock Purdy threw for 2,594 yards and 18 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
“They’re an excellent, talented, well-coached football team that schematically runs more than a couple things that are very different than what we’ve seen,” Cristobal said.
Ducks quarterback Tyler Shough threw for 1,480 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions in six games. CJ Verdell, who was Oregon’s rushing leader in the regular season, missed the Pac-12 finale with a knee injury but could be back for the bowl game.
“When you say Oregon football, you have an immediate respect for who they are and what they’re about,” Campbell said.
It will be a homecoming for the quarterbacks, who both starred at Arizona high schools. Purdy played at Perry High in Gilbert and Shough at Hamilton High in neighboring Chandler. They met twice in high school, with Perry, led by Purdy, prevailing 65-63 and 63-60.
“Certainly a competitive situation at the high school level and now they get to do it at the collegiate level,” Cristobal said.
The Ducks will be making their third appearance in the Fiesta Bowl after beating Colorado in 2002 and Kansas State in 2013.
–Field Level Media
The Fiesta Bowl and the Rose Bowl will be played without fans in January due to COVID-19 restrictions, both bowl committees announced Thursday.
While the Fiesta Bowl will allow families of players to attend the Jan. 2 game at Glendale, Ariz., the state, city and county nixed the Tournament of Roses’ request for the same in Pasadena, Calif. The Rose Bowl is one of the College Football Playoff’s semifinal games this go-round.
Los Angeles County is under a stay-at-home order due to the pandemic through mid-December.
“While we are disappointed that the Rose Bowl Game will not be played in front of spectators, we are pleased that we are still able to hold the game this year, continuing the 100-year plus tradition of The Granddaddy of Them All,” said David Eads, executive director and CEO of the Tournament of Roses. “We continue to work closely with health department officials and the Rose Bowl Stadium to provide the safest possible environment for our game participants.”
Arizona has experienced an uptick in cases of COVID-19, peaking at more than 5,700 late last month.
“While we are disappointed that the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl will not have fans in the stadium to enjoy Bowl Season this year, we respect the decisions made by the local authorities,” said Mike Nealy, the executive director of the Fiesta Bowl Organization. “Our staff was incredibly diligent to put health and safety measures in place that earned the endorsement from the Governor’s Office for policies that aligned with recommendations for reducing COVID-19 transmission risk. Ultimately, we all need to do our part to ensure the health and safety of our community to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
The Sugar Bowl — the other CFP semifinal — as well as the Orange Bowl and CFP title game are still on track to host a limited amount of fans.
Ten bowl games thus far have been canceled due to the pandemic: Bahamas, Celebration, Fenway, Hawaii, Holiday, Las Vegas, Motor City, Pinstripe, Redbox and Sun.
–Field Level Media