Fiesta Bowl Preview

Where: Tempe, Ariz.

When: Mon., Jan. 1, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)

Payout: $13.5 million

Teams’ Bowl Performances Last Year:

Oregon State lost to Hawaii 23-17 in the Oahu Bowl Notre Dame did not play in a bowl game

What to Watch For

This is one of the most eagerly anticipated bowl games because it features two left-for-dead teams that mounted tremendous turnarounds. And the victor will be rewarded with a multi-million dollar payday.

Coming off a dismal 5-7 season in 1999, Notre Dame failed to make The Associated Press’ Top 25 preseason college football poll for the first time in 14 years. The Fighting Irish quickly went 2-2, a lackluster beginning that only added fuel to rumors of Bob Davie’s imminent demise as head coach.

But shortly after freshman Matt LoVecchio replaced the injured starting quarterback Arnaz Battle, the Irish won seven straight games to finish 9-2. LoVecchio completed the season with 982 yards passing and 11 touchdowns as Notre Dame earned its first BCS bowl berth in five years.

Oregon State likewise is a turnaround darling. Before Dennis Erickson arrived two years ago, the Beavers were mired in their 28th consecutive losing season, an NCAA record. Last year, OSU finished 7-5 and played in the Oahu Bowl. This season, the fifth-ranked Beavers won 10 games for the first time in school history, suffering their only loss when a last-second, 46-yard field goal failed against Washington.

Speedy Oregon State has no shortage of weapons. Its running game is top-notch, thanks to back Ken Simonton, who for the third time rushed for at least 1,000 yards in a season and scored 18 touchdowns. Patrick McCall also pitched in 665 yards on the ground, giving the Beavers depth at the position. Three receivers have at least 33 receptions, and Robert Prescott added 26 catches for 602 yards despite missing three games.

Defensively, safeties Terrence Carroll and Jake Cookus combined for nine interceptions for OSU, and LeDairis Jackson had 10 sacks at defensive end.

If Notre Dame is to have a shot at toppling the quick and talented OSU, it will have to rely on its strength: discipline. The team led the nation in the fewest number of turnovers allowed with eight and is excellent on special teams. The Irish, who are appearing in their 23rd bowl game this year, are ranked in the top 10 in kickoff returns and net punting.