One of the fun parts of bowl season is that it often pairs two teams that have rarely, if ever, met on the gridiron. Such is the case with the Fiesta Bowl, which features No. 10 Iowa State and No. 25 Oregon. The Cyclones and Ducks will be playing for the first time after two unconventional seasons.
Iowa State is coming off a tough loss in the Big 12 Championship Game to Oklahoma, falling just short of winning its first conference title since 1912. Still, there’s a lot on the line in the Fiesta Bowl. Led by running back Breece Hall and linebacker Mike Rose, the Big 12 Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively, Iowa State is looking for just its third nine-win season in program history and the first since 2000.
While Iowa State exceeded preseason expectations, Oregon met them — sort of. The Ducks won the Pac-12 Championship with a 31-24 victory over USC, but they were a backup team after Washington backed out due to COVID-19 issues. Put another way, Oregon didn’t even win the Pac-12 North while winning the Pac-12 title. But that’s 2020 for you.
Oregon: You could make an argument that neither team really deserved a Fiesta Bowl invite, but Oregon is aided by its conference championship win. As a slight underdog, the Ducks could surprise with a couple of key matchups. The first is in the pass rush. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is a freakishly athletic player who was named an AP All-American with three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in six games. The other is cornerback Mykael Wright, who will be tasked with handling Iowa State’s rangy pass-catchers. Oregon has some legit defenders and it’s possible that fewer games played means fresher legs for this game.
Iowa State: Hall is having an All-American season and understandably a lot of the focus is going to be on him. However, the Fiesta Bowl is a homecoming game for quarterback Brock Purdy, a native of nearby Gilbert, Arizona. Purdy has had an up and down year. He had a strong final three games of the regular season, but threw three interceptions against the Sooners in the Big 12 title game. Purdy is a gamer and can make magnificent plays when his back is against the wall. But he has to cut down on the mistakes against a talented Oregon defense if Iowa State is going to stay on schedule. Playing from behind is not something the Cyclones do all that well.
Game: Fiesta Bowl
Date: Saturday, Jan. 2 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: State Farm Stadium — Glendale, Arizona
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Fiesta Bowl prediction, picks
Iowa State Cyclones
It’s true that Oregon is a little fresher coming into this game than Iowa State. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a factor that ends up becoming. But Iowa State is on the verge of having its best season ever with its most talented team ever. With the bitter taste of defeat from the Big 12 title game still in their mouths, the Cyclones find a way to close out the season on a positive note. Pick: Iowa State -4.5 | Iowa State 31, Oregon 24
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