Penn State's James Franklin: “I’m a huge fan of Chris Petersen, personally and professionally."

Share story

A year ago on this day — the day the final College Football Playoff rankings were announced — Washington and Penn State were pitted against each other, head-to-head, in-or-out for the fourth and final playoff bid.

A heated debate raged from both sides. Who was more deserving? Who had the better resume? Both sides dug in, even after the Huskies were award the No. 4 seed and a trip to the CFP for the first time.

That’s not to suggest that this year’s matchup between Washington (10-2) and Penn State (10-2) in the Dec. 30 Fiesta Bowl — a pairing announced Sunday during another drama-filled day for the CFP committee — will in any way settle a year-old debate. No point in that, really.

But if anyone was expecting some residual animosity from either coach leading up to their showdown in Arizona, well, you would be disappointed.

During a joint conference call hosted by the Fiesta Bowl, UW coach Chris Petersen and Penn State coach James Franklin each spoke glowingly of the other, and each other’s program. By all accounts, this is shaping up to be a friendly Fiesta.

“I’m a huge fan of Chris Petersen, personally and professionally,” Franklin said.

Previously, Franklin and Petersen got to know each other during Nike coaching retreats together, with their wives. And, coincidentally, Franklin said he is “very, very close” with Bush Hamdan, who on Sunday was hired by Petersen to be UW’s new offensive coordinator. In 2010, Franklin, then the offensive coordinator at Maryland, hired Hamdan as a quality-control coach for the Terrapins.

“Bush just speaks the world of Coach Petersen,” Franklin said. “And that’s helpful. You see good people in this profession and you watch them be successful.”

The two coaches took similar paths the past four years to another New Year’s Six bowl game.

Franklin took over at Penn State in 2014. Petersen came to Montlake in 2014. Through two seasons, Franklin had a 14-12 record at Penn State. Petersen was 15-12 his first two seasons at UW.

Both programs broke through in 2016. The Huskies won their first Pac-12 title since 2001 and lost to Alabama in the national semifinals. The Nittany Lions won their first Big Ten title since 2008 and lost to USC in the Rose Bowl.

Now here they are, each 10-2, and head-to-head again. This will be the first time Petersen and Franklin will oppose each other.

Penn State came in ranked No. 9 in the CFP’s final rankings released Sunday. The Huskies are No. 11.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are to come back. There is no better bowl,” Petersen said. “When we heard today we were coming back, there was a lot of jumping around and smiling faces — until we found out it was James Franklin’s Penn State Nittany Lions, and then all of a sudden it was, ‘Uh oh, be careful what you wish for.’ We have so much respect for that game and we have so much respect for that program of Coach Franklin. This is what college football is all about.”

The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. PT (2 p.m. MT) kickoff on Saturday, Dec. 30, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. ESPN will broadcast the game.

This is the Huskies’ first Fiesta Bowl bid. Petersen is 2-0 in the Fiesta Bowl, having coached Boise State to an upset of Oklahoma after the 2006 season — in one of the great college football games of all-time — and a win over TCU after the 2009 season.

This is also the first game between UW and Penn State since the 1983 Aloha Bowl (Penn State won, 13-10).

Notably, this matchup will Penn State’s star running back Saquon Barkley against the Huskies’ top-ranked rushing defense.

“They are big, they are strong, they are physical, and they are fast,” Franklin said of the Huskies. “They take pride in how they play defense there — them and the Seattle Seahawks.”

The Huskies woke up Sunday morning not knowing where they would go for the postseason. They appeared right on the cusp of getting a bid for a New Year’s Six bowl, and that was indeed the case — just sneaking in at No. 11.

The Cotton Bowl and Fiesta Bowl then swapped matchups Sunday — USC and Ohio State will play in Dallas in part because Ohio State had played in the Fiesta the past two years.

The Huskies — and, no doubt, many of their fans — are happy to head to the desert.

“This is what you play so hard during the season for — to go to a big-time bowl game like this and play against another really, really storied, great program,” Petersen said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled on our end. You made our whole month — and really our whole season.”