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Penn State to play in Fiesta Bowl against Washington

The Nittany Lions, who were No. 9 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, will meet the Huskies of the Pac-12 on Dec. 30 in Glendale, Ariz.

Penn State head coach James Franklin will coach his team in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30.
Penn State head coach James Franklin will coach his team in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30.Read moreAssociated Press

In Penn State football history, few bowl games are remembered as fondly as the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, where the Nittany Lions defeated Miami, 14-10, for their second national championship.

The Lions discovered Sunday they will be playing in the Fiesta Bowl for the seventh time, and their opponent this time on Dec. 30 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., will be Washington. The Huskies of the Pac-12 claimed the last of the four College Football Playoff spots last year, while Penn State barely finished on the outside at No. 5.

Penn State head coach James Franklin, who was a month short of his 15th birthday and attending Neshaminy High School when the 1987 game was played, said he appreciates the history, but isn't dwelling on it.

"I think, with this generation of kids, they go back to about when they were back in ninth grade," Franklin said. "Obviously, we've got a tremendous history with the Fiesta Bowl, but, at the end of the day, it's going to be the 2017 Penn State football team against the 2017 University of Washington football team.

"I think history is more for the media and the fans to talk about. The coaches and players, we're just focused on what we see on tape."

The Nittany Lions, who finished No. 9 in this season's last College Football Playoff rankings, are 6-0 in the Fiesta Bowl. Their last appearance came at the end of the 1996 season, when they defeated Texas, 38-15. They are 2-0 all-time against the Huskies; their last meeting was a 13-10 win at the 1983 Aloha Bowl.

The Lions and the Huskies both finished the regular season 10-2. Washington finished tied for first in the Pac-12 North with Stanford, but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker, losing, 30-22, to the Cardinal.

The Huskies boast the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, a familiar scenario for Penn State. Michigan and Michigan State were No. 1 in the FBS in rushing defense the week they competed against Penn State.

"That sounds really exciting. The football gods are with us, no doubt about it," Franklin said.

"In the Big Ten, I think this is a conference that really prides itself on playing really good defense. You look at the rankings and the statistics, there's a lot of teams in the conference that are leading nationally, so it's a challenge. I think those challenges provide us opportunities to get better and test yourself."

Washington coach Chris Petersen has some history at the Fiesta Bowl himself, having led Boise State to a 43-42 overtime upset over Oklahoma in the 2007 game. He said he respects Penn State's ability on both sides of the ball.

"You get excited about going into the game," he said. "Then you figure out your opponent and you're excited about that, and then you put the tape on and you're, like, 'Oh-oh, here we go. We've got to figure some things out.' I already know that without putting the tape on. You don't go into a game like that without playing a really good program."

Franklin said assistant coach Ricky Rahne, who was promoted Friday to offensive coordinator, will call the plays in the game. Franklin said he was happy to name a new coordinator from his current staff. Rahne takes over for Joe Moorhead, who was named head coach at Mississippi State on Nov. 28.

"If you go out and hire someone else, you're starting over," he said. "You're hiring someone to run someone else's offense. Ricky recruited all our quarterbacks. I don't know if it's fair for Trace McSorley to start all over again, and the young guys. To me, it's about relationships."