The Huskies aren’t just content to be back in a New Year’s Six game. This time they want to win.
PHOENIX — Apart for four days for a holiday break, the Huskies regrouped Monday evening, arriving five days before they play Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Huskies are happy to be here, sure.
But they aren’t just content to be back in a New Year’s Six game. They were on a similar stage last year in a loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff, an experience the Huskies believe should benefit them, and their preparation, in the buildup to the Fiesta Bowl.
“Last year it was kind of like a shock — not to us, really, but it was like, ‘Whoa, Washington’s in it?’ ” senior receiver Dante Pettis said last week in Seattle. “So that kind of played into it a little bit. But now that it’s like we’re meant to be in this stage, it is a different mindset.”
Kickoff at University of Phoenix Stadium is set for a 1 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. Penn State (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) is a 1½-point favorite over the Huskies (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12).
“The one thing we know coming here, because you’re always going to play a really, really good opponent, you have to play your best football of the year to be able to win,” coach Chris Petersen said after Monday night’s arrival.
“And I think that’s what’s exciting about coming to this game. If you can get that done, you know you’ve put your best foot forward.”
The majority of the Huskies’ regular contributors — 17 of their projected 22 starters — played against Alabama in the Peach Bowl a year ago.
“It was great going to the playoff last year, but we didn’t win it,” junior quarterback Jake Browning said last week. “So it’s like, what’s the point of going if you’re not going to win? The Fiesta Bowl and all that, we’re happy to be playing in it and we want to end on a better note.
“As far as my career, all we’ve won is the Dallas Bowl. To say that ‘Oh, we don’t have anything to play for because we lost two games,’ we haven’t won a big-time bowl game since I’ve been here. That’s not any disrespect to the Dallas Bowl; that’s just how it is. The Fiesta Bowl is a big-time bowl game and we want to win it.”
Penn State and UW have taken similar paths to get to Arizona. Both teams were undefeated midway through the year and ranked in the top five, before both faltered with two close losses on the road.
“We’re looking forward to playing an exciting game come Saturday,” Penn State coach James Franklin said Saturday, when his Nittany Lions made their arrival in Phoenix.
“Got a lot of respect for the University of Washington. Got a lot of respect for Coach Petersen, what he’s been able to do over his career.
“I think it has a chance to be a fantastic bowl game.”