Fiesta Bowl 2014: TV Schedule, Matchup Predictions and Odds

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2014

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon (12) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

While this week's slate of college football conference championship games could certainly change the current landscape significantly, the Fiesta Bowl is among the postseason contests with an extremely interesting matchup potentially on tap.

There are several possibilities for the New Year's Eve clash since there is no conference tie-in under the College Football Playoff system, but Arizona and Boise State are likely in the driver's seat as of right now.

As things currently stand, Stewart Mandel of FoxSports.com and noted college football journalist Phil Steele are among those who project an Arizona vs. Boise State meeting.

According to B.J. Rains of The Idaho Press-Tribune, the Fiesta Bowl has become a popular destination for the Broncos:

B.J. Rains @BJRains

Boise State is likely a home win over 6-6 Fresno State from making third trip to Fiesta Bowl in past nine seasons: http://t.co/oJK8L2tYfj

The Wildcats will face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, while the Broncos will take on 6-6 Fresno State to determine the Mountain West champ. The expectation is that Arizona will lose and Boise State will win, which may seal the Fiesta Bowl's fate.

An Oregon win would send it to the CFP semifinals, which would leave Arizona as the top Pac-12 team left out of national title contention. As for Boise State, it is now clearly the top team from a non-power conference in the wake of Marshall's loss to Western Kentucky.

The Fiesta Bowl has traditionally been a proving ground for unheralded teams, which is something the Broncos established when they upset Oklahoma in 2007.

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

When: Wednesday, Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Predicted Odds: Arizona (-10)

Players to Watch

Anu Solomon

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 01:  Quarterback Anu Solomon #12 of the Arizona Wildcats rolls out to throw a pass against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on November 1, 2014 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Many factors have contributed to Arizona's spectacular season, but the play of its freshmen may top the list. Quarterback Anu Solomon has shown an incredible skill set and poise throughout the 2014 campaign, and it will be interesting to see how he performs on the big stage.

Entering the Pac-12 Championship Game, Solomon has over 3,400 passing yards and 27 touchdowns to just seven interceptions through the air. In all likelihood, he will make freshman history in one of his next two contests as well, per Blair Willis of ArizonaWildcats.com:

Blair Willis @BlairWillisUA

The FBS record for single-season passing yards by a freshman is: 3,740 (Brett Hundley, UCLA, 2012). Anu Solomon has 3,424 yards to date.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Solomon has been his toughness and durability. He was forced to leave Arizona's win over Utah a couple weeks ago with an ankle injury after just one half. That led to Solomon being listed as questionable for the Wildcats' rivalry game against Arizona State last week, according to Pac-12 Networks:

Pac-12 Network @Pac12Network

NEW per @ArizonaFBall: QB Anu Solomon remains questionable for Friday's #TerritorialCup due to an ankle injury. http://t.co/H3lRgFE1r7

Despite that, Solomon played and thrived as he threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-35 win that vaulted Arizona to No. 7 in the country.

Solomon has a long, bright future ahead of him at Arizona, but a strong performance in the Fiesta Bowl could represent the start of an unmatched legacy among Wildcats quarterbacks. He'll have the pressure of being under center for the favored team if this potential matchup holds up, but everything he has done thus far suggests that it won't bother him.

Jay Ajayi

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 13:   Grant Hedrick #9 of the Boise State Broncos hands the ball to running back Jay Ajayi #27 in the first quarter  against the Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field on September 13, 2014 in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Boise State has had plenty of great running backs over the years, including the likes of Ian Johnson and Doug Martin, but it can be argued that none have been as dominant as junior Jay Ajayi.

The Plano, Texas, native is clearly Boise State's best player, and it can be argued that he is the most unheralded player in college football. He enters the Mountain West Championship Game having topped 100 yards rushing in seven straight games, but that is far from the only way he can beat opposing teams.

In addition to over 1,600 rushing yards on the season, Ajayi has caught 45 passes for 536 yards. According to Jay Tust of KTVB, it has been nearly a decade since a running back reached those yardage thresholds in major college football:

Jay Tust @KTVBSportsGuy

#BoiseState RB Jay Ajayi is the first RB in the NCAA with 1,600+ rush yds (1,619) and 500+ rec yds (536) in a season in 9 YEARS!

With last week's 229-yard rushing performance against Utah State, Ajayi entered the Broncos' record book as well, per Boise State Football on Twitter:

Boise State Football @BroncoSportsFB

Jay Ajayi has also set the Boise State single-season record for all-purpose yardage with 2,155.

As good as Ajayi is at racking up yardage, his nose for the end zone may be even better. He has an incredible 28 total touchdowns one year after finding pay dirt on 19 occasions.

Boise State is ninth in the nation when it comes to scoring offense at nearly 41 points per game. While quarterback Grant Hedrick has done a nice job, it is no secret that Ajayi has been and will continue to be the biggest key to the Broncos' offensive success.

Nick Wilson

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 28:  Running back Nick Wilson #28 of the Arizona Wildcats rushes the football for a 21-yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the Territorial Cup college football game at Arizona Stadium on N
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Solomon is far from the only Arizona freshman to make a notable impact this season, as running back Nick Wilson has gotten acclimated to the college game much faster than anyone could have anticipated.

The impressive debutant is closing in on 1,300 rushing yards on the season to go along with 15 touchdowns. He torched Arizona State for 178 yards and three scores in last week's Territorial Cup and seems to be getting better as the season goes on.

In fact, Wilson is in the midst of a torrid streak over the past month, according to Anthony Gimino of FoxSportsArizona.com:

Anthony Gimino @AGWildcatReport

#ArizonaWildcats true freshman RB Nick Wilson in 4-game winning streak: 95 rushes, 653 yards, 8 TDs.

Wilson's instant contributions have surprised many, including himself, per Craig Morgan of FoxSportsArizona.com.

"Truthfully, I expected to probably come in, just get some reps and probably be in a rotation or possibly redshirt," Wilson said. "I got the chance and I had the opportunity to make the best of it."

Solomon owes credit to many for the success he has had in 2014, but Wilson may be at the top of that list. Opposing defenses truly have to worry about getting beaten by the Wildcats in myriad ways, and it is difficult for teams to come back when Wilson is killing the clock.

If this Fiesta Bowl clash comes to fruition, much of the focus will likely be on Wilson's counterpart, Ajayi, but the fantastic freshman has a chance to steal the show.

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