So, why should you care about the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl more than any other bowl game you’ve pounded down your gullet thus far? Assuming you like offense, you’ll love this one. Both teams finished in the top 30 in points per game, with Boise State finishing ninth with 39.8 and Arizona 28th with 34.8.
How did these teams get to this point? The Broncos are more than likely regretting scheduling the Ole Miss Rebels the opening week, which in hindsight was a much more difficult opponent to opening the season than anticipated. They’d also fall on September 27, 2014, against the Air Force Academy, dropping them down to 3-2 on the season. From that moment on, they’ve won eight games in a row, and now sit at 11-2 with a 7-1 record within the Mountain West Conference.
For the Wildcats from Arizona, they suffered losses to their California rivals in USC and UCLA on Oct. 11 and Nov. 1, respectively. Those would be the only two losses they’d suffer during the regular season, leading them to the promised land of the Pac-12 Championship Game. Once there, it got ugly. Despite a 51-13 drubbing at the hands of the Oregon Ducks, the Wildcats will have had nearly four weeks to recover from the total destruction they suffered.
The Broncos found themselves here due to the guarantee promised to team’s not in Power 5 Conferences, that the highest-rated team in the final College Football Playoff rankings would receive a bid to one of the New Year’s Six games. Boise State’s #20 ranking is by far the lowest of team’s included in the New Year’s Six bowls, which #12 Georgia Tech the next lowest.
The ultimate X-factor
Despite being 26th in the country in passing offense, the key player in deciding who will win this year’s Fiesta Bowl will be Jay Ajayi, the Boise State running back. Finishing fifth in the nation in rushing yards, with 1,689, the Broncos’ do-it-all back will prove difficult for the Wildcats to stop.
Where the ‘Cats may get lucky, is in Ajayi looking past them. Not in the way of disrespect or slight, but in terms of his future. He has already announced his decision to forego his senior season at Boise State and enter the NFL Draft.
The last two games he has played in have been either dynamite, or a bit disappointing. Against Utah State on Nov. 29, Ajayi would carry the ball 27 times for a whopping 229 yards and score five touchdowns, but his next time out against Fresno State on Dec. 6; he’d carry the ball 22 times for just 70 yards and only one touchdown. The biggest misnomer of all statistically was that over his final two games, he’d haul in just one catch. For the season, he’d rope in 45 for over 500 yards and four touchdowns. Ajayi never appears to be a player who would check out physically during a game, so one has to wonder whether instead of one eye on the NFL and their perception of running backs, he has both firmly fixed there.
Climbing the Hill
It has been a long journey back for Arizona WR Austin Hill, and now he is just one game away from realizing his NFL dream. From his ESPN.com "Intangibles" page concerning his NFL Draft ranking, "Comes from a supportive two-parent home. Father David Hill played in the NFL for the Rams and Lions. Has a daughter and lives with the mother. Accountable and mature. Expected to be elected a team captain for the 2014 season. Loves football. Student of the game and puts in his time in the film room. Strong leadership skills and encourages/mentors teammates. Showed a lot mental toughness dealing with knee injury throughout the 2013 season." Hill was rated as "exceptional."
While his numbers on the year don’t scream exceptional (45 receptions, 605 yards, 4 touchdowns), Hill has been rated as the 11th best receiver in the draft (so far) and the 64th best player overall. That stock will surely only increase if he has a breakout game on a major national stage such as the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl.
Quarterback Anu Solomon has had a coming out party for the ages in 2014, and on the final day of the year, he can put the sweetest capper of them all on it.
It’s the #20 Boise State Broncos vs. the #10 Arizona Wildcats. It’s the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl. It’s New Year’s Eve at 4 p.m. ET, live on ESPN.