SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Last year’s Fiesta Bowl was a dud on the field, in the stands, in the ratings — pretty much any standard you considered. Not this year.
Oklahoma State and Stanford are creating a buzz for the Jan. 2 game unlike any other bowl outside of the BCS championship game.
“Let’s face it, Americans like to score points — that’s why we don’t embrace soccer,” Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton said Wednesday. “You never know, but I think that’s why this is the game to watch this year.”
It wasn’t like this last year.
With UConn travelling across the country and facing a perennial national power in Oklahoma, the Fiesta Bowl was a tough sell.
UConn was only able to sell 5,000 of its allotment of 17,500 tickets, and University of Phoenix Stadium was 6,000 below capacity. The game lived up to its lopsided billing with the Sooners winning 48-20. Not many people were interested in watching it on TV, and the ratings dropped 22 percent from the year before.
The Fiesta Bowl needed a boost after nearly losing its BCS status due to financial improprieties — CEO John Junker was fired in March for his involvement — and couldn’t have asked for a better matchup between Cardinal and Cowboys.
Oklahoma State and Stanford are Nos. 3 and 4 in the BCS standings, giving the Fiesta Bowl the highest possible rankings outside the title game. The Cowboys and Cardinal have two of the most prolific offenses in the country, and their quarterbacks, Brandon Weeden at OSU and Andrew Luck at Stanford, are among the most dynamic anywhere.
Both also happen to be one-loss teams and will have that chip-on-the-shoulder mentality from not getting a chance to play for a national championship, particularly Oklahoma State, which finished .0086 points behind No. 2 Alabama in the BCS standings.
“I think if somebody was going to take a poll across the country, there’s a lot of excitement about this game compared to any other bowl in the country,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said.
The fans certainly seem to be interested.
After slogging through sluggish ticket sales a year ago, this year’s Fiesta is doing just fine.
Stanford snapped up its allotment of tickets in a few days, and the Cowboys weren’t too far behind on the trigger in filling theirs. A few thousand tickets are left from the Phoenix market pool — ticket sales are usually down the year after a city hosts the national title game — but those are expected to go quickly as fans from the two teams learn they’re available.
Even as they’re enjoying the warmth of the Arizona sun, the players can feel the buzz for the game building.
“I know all the guys are excited,” Luck said. “We are looking forward to playing a great Oklahoma State team. Preparation has gone well, and we are just excited.”
Adding to the excitement is the chance to play on Jan. 2, right after the Rose Bowl, which will feature what should be another offensive showcase between Wisconsin and Oregon.
The Fiesta Bowl originally was scheduled to be played Jan. 5, but a slot three days earlier opened up when the NFL reached a labor agreement and didn’t extend its season. The Sugar and Orange bowls both were unable to change dates, but Fiesta officials jumped at the chance, creating what should be an entertaining doubleheader Jan. 2.
“We’re happy and have a lot of reasons to be,” Shelton said.
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