TEMPE, Ariz. -- Matching Ohio State against Notre Dame ended
up being an easy decision for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
The Buckeyes will be making their third appearance at Sun Devil
Stadium in four years. Notre Dame returns to the Bowl Championship
Series at the site of its last appearance five years ago, and its
last national title in 1989.
Leading up to college football's Selection Sunday, it was
practically a foregone conclusion that the Fiesta Bowl would select
the Fighting Irish, but there was much speculation about whether
Ohio State or Oregon would be the opponent.
Ultimately, there was really no choice to be made.
The Buckeyes finished fourth in the final BCS standings, earning
an automatic spot in the four big-money bowl games. The Irish also
qualified automatically by finishing sixth. In the end, there were
no at-large bids available for Oregon (10-1).
"There are other great teams who unquestionably deserve to be
in, but there's a limited number of bowl spots available, which
makes playing in a BCS bowl game special," Fiesta Bowl executive
director John Junker said.
Oregon's only loss was to Southern California, but the Irish
played the top-ranked Trojans even tougher, winning their last five
games after falling 34-31 to USC, when Matt Leinart pushed into the
end zone in the final seconds.
Notre Dame also dropped a 44-41 contest in overtime to Michigan
State on Sept. 17.
Ohio State (9-2) won its last six after a 17-10 loss at Penn
State on Oct. 8, costing it the Big Ten tiebreaker against the
Nittany Lions when that came into play at the end of the season.
The Buckeyes other loss was a 25-22 decision to Texas, which will
play USC for the national crown, on Sept. 10.
"Our goal is always to have a chance to play in the national
championship game ... and the second goal is a BCS game," Buckeyes
coach Jim Tressel said.
He added, "I think there will be as many people watching," the
Fiesta Bowl as the Rose Bowl.
Junker acknowledged that it was unusual for a team to play in a
major bowl three times in four years.
"But the research we did and the people we talked to, it was
very clear that if there was an exception it would be to match up
these two programs, and there's no question that the economic
impact on the Valley [of the Sun] and the state of Arizona would be
huge," Junker said.
Arizona's history as a refuge for people from the Midwest
seeking a warmer, drier climate did nothing but add to the
attractiveness of the matchup.
Notre Dame, which beat the Buckeyes in 1935-36 and lost to them
in 1995-96, was an obvious choice. Under first-year coach Charlie
Weis, the Irish improved from a regular-season 6-5 in 2004 to 9-2.
Notre Dame's No. 5 ranking is its highest at the end of the regular
season since the Irish were fourth heading into the bowls in 1993.
"They certainly have come a long way from walking off the field
last year and ending up 6-6," Weis said.
The Buckeyes feature one of the nation's toughest defenses, led
by stellar linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter.
"I've seen them on TV a bunch," Weis went on. "I haven't seen
any videotape of them yet, that's yet to come, but some things that
obviously stand out are a very dominant defense and a very exciting
offense and they improved as the year went on."
Notre Dame's revival has been led by an Ohioan. Quarterback
Brady Quinn completed 65 percent of his passes this season with 32
touchdowns passes and only seven interceptions.
"Brady was a great high school quarterback and we were very
interested in him coming here," Tressel said. "He's done a great
job. He took the opportunities at Notre Dame and has grown with
Notre Dame has lost seven straight bowl games, including the
Insight Bowl in Phoenix last season after coach Tyrone Willingham
had been fired.
"That's something that obviously needs to end," Quinn said of
the losing streak. "It's been going on far too long. That is one
of our goals, ending that streak."