TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ohio State is returning to the Fiesta Bowl,
site of last season's dramatic double-overtime national
championship triumph, to face surprising Big 12 champion Kansas
The Jan. 2 game will be the first meeting of the two schools.
On Sunday, Fiesta Bowl officials exercised a provision in BCS
rules that gave them an "economic priority" pick ahead of the
Orange Bowl and selected Ohio State over Florida State.
"It was our opportunity to have the next-to-last selection,
essentially, and the Orange Bowl was left with the final
selection," Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said.
The Orange Bowl used its economic priority selection to lure
Southern Cal last season, Junker said. The Fiesta's insistence on
Ohio State left the Orange Bowl with a Miami-Florida State matchup
of teams that also met in the regular season.
The big loser was Texas, which Junker indicated was a probable
choice had Kansas State not upset Oklahoma 35-7 Saturday night in
the Big 12 championship game.
The Wildcats' blowout of the then-No. 1, unbeaten Sooners, and
the fact that Kansas State brings tens of thousands of fans, made
it an attractive opponent for Ohio State.
"I watched Kansas State beat Oklahoma, and there's no debate
about whether they're a good football team," Ohio State
quarterback Craig Krenzel said.
The Fiesta Bowl gives an automatic berth to the Big 12 champion
unless that team is playing in the national title game. If Oklahoma
had won the Big 12 title and gone to the Sugar Bowl, the Fiesta
would have had two at-large picks.
Kansas State (11-3), with its first conference championship
since 1934, will make its second Fiesta Bowl appearance. The
Wildcats defeated Syracuse 35-18 at the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31,
1997. Until Saturday, that victory was considered the biggest in
the school's history.
The Wildcats lost three in a row to Marshall, Texas and Oklahoma
State to drop out of the national rankings, but have won seven
straight since then.
The last three victories were 38-9 at Nebraska, 24-14 over
Missouri and the stunning romp over Oklahoma.
"It's complete now, Bill Snyder's rebuilding job," Junker
said. "There's no more asterisks. They've made it. They beat one
of the best college football teams of all time. They earned their
way into this game, and now they'll play a team that represents
some of the best traditions in football, a very, very tough team,
one that leads the nation in rushing defense."
Kansas State will make its first appearance in a BCS bowl after
being passed over when they were eligible in previous seasons.
"There was a time or two we had hoped we would have the
opportunity and it didn't happen," coach Snyder said in a national
telephone conference call. "But when you only have a few teams,
somebody's going to get disappointed. We've been on the other end
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said he always has admired Snyder's
rebuilding of what was once one of college football's worst
"Probably the finest workmanship of anyone in the last 20
years," Tressel said.
The game will match Ohio State's stout run defense, ranked first
in NCAA Division I, against an ever-improving Kansas State ground
game led by the diminutive speedster Darren Sproles, who rushed for
235 yards against the Sooners.
"I think Oklahoma had some great run defense numbers as well
going into it and that didn't seem to stop the Wildcats," Tressel
Ohio State (10-2) returns to Sun Devil Stadium with the best of
memories, a 31-24 double-overtime over favored Miami for the
national championship last season.
The Buckeyes were in the national title picture this year, too,
before a 35-21 loss at Michigan Nov. 22, Ohio State's final
Ohio State appeared in two other Fiesta Bowls, losing to Penn
State 31-19 in 1980 and beating Pittsburgh 28-23 in 1984.
The Fiesta Bowl is sponsored by Tostitos.