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Penn State Football: If You Don't Care About The Fiesta Bowl, Why You Should

by on December 19, 2017 2:15 PM

You could be forgiven for not caring all that much about the Fiesta Bowl. I mean, you probably should. It's two Top 11 squads in a New Years Six bowl game. Both not long removed from their own playoff hopes two years in a row.

So it's not like the game doesn't matter, it's not like the opponent is a boring one or the location the middle of the Bronx in late December.

But it isn't the Rose Bowl, and Washington isn't USC and Penn State is going to graduate damn near half the household names on the roster heading into a 2018 season with a much different team.

So win or lose, it matters, but Penn State football will exist next year and the year after that and very little about a trip to Ann Arbor or an Ohio State game at Beaver Stadium will be impacted by what happens in Phoenix in just over a week.

What to care about then? There are a few things to keep an eye on that might make this game far more interesting than it might feel on the surface.

Do you notice Ricky Rahne? 

In a perfect world if you're Penn State the loss of Joe Moorhead means one less visor on the sideline rather than a dozen fewer points. In fairness a few weeks to prepare for a bowl game against a great run defense is hardly the perfect reintroduction for Rahne. Maybe Rahne figures out a few wrinkles to help restart a running game that has struggled against good teams, but best case is probably just business as usual for these guys. Rahne can figure out the nuances down the road. If he isn't firing off plays that make you scratch your head that's a good thing for the Nittany Lions. In short, no news is good news for Rahne out of the gate.

Miles Sanders:

It stands to reasons Sanders is probably going to get a few more carries this game as Penn State tries to navigate that delicate balance of Saquon Barkley playing while also keeping him healthy so he can follow through on the worst-kept NFL secret in State College. There is enough data out there to suggest Sanders will be just fine in a post-Barkley world, but it'll be interesting to see how he does against his stiffest test so far. 

Who's that guy?

Penn State has had a few guys leave their mark in the bowl game and breakout the following season. Keeping an eye on the names you don't know quite as well might mean seeing into the 2018 season in the last gasps of 2017. This will be especially true on defense, where Penn State won't be short on big names to replace moving forward.

Close out a close game?

James Franklin has a better record in close games than he gets credit for, but between Ohio State and USC he has something to prove in what ought to be a close game against top teams. If he and his staff can navigate their way through a big bowl game (and they've lost two in a row) that isn't something to disregard. If anything Penn State might be better served playing in a close game than winning or losing in a blowout.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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