SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Fiesta Bowl means something special for Penn State football: a second straight New Year's Six bowl game and a chance at back-to-back 11-win seasons.
For head coach James Franklin in particular, it's a chance to send the seniors off with a win – the fifth-year seniors who had no guarantee of any bowl games because of NCAA sanctions at the time they came to Penn State, the fourth-year seniors who put their faith in a new head coach and stayed committed to the program.
"I don't think it's something that you can really put into words and describe the impact that last year's seniors had, the impact this year's seniors had," Franklin said Friday at the final press conference before Saturday's game against Washington at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"They committed to Penn State at a time that it probably wasn't the sexy thing to do. I think those guys came in with a real big chip on their shoulders that they wanted to be the senior class that really put Penn State back on the map, and I think they accomplished a lot of that.
"Our seniors, I don't know if you can put a value on what they have done for our university and for our community, and specifically for me and our staff. Culture drivers are what we would describe them as, guys that are reinforcing all the messages in the locker room and in the community that need to be reinforced."
Five fifth-year seniors – defensive tackles Curtis Cothran (Council Rock North) and Parker Cothren, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, guard Brendan Mahon and linebacker Brandon Smith – will start their final games in blue and white on Saturday, as will six fourth-year seniors.
"It's been crazy," Cothran said. "We weren't guaranteed bowl games when I came here. We weren't expecting to have bowl games for a long time. So the fact that [the ban] got lifted … being able to play four straight bowls is not something that I imagined being able to do. So I'm just blessed."
Franklin said he's gotten the impression from previous bowls this month that one team is much more excited to be playing than the other. He doesn't expect that to be the case Saturday even though both teams were undefeated at midseason and considered College Football Playoff contenders.