It’s been two decades since the last trip there, but no major bowl game has treated Penn State better than the Fiesta Bowl. The Nittany Lions are 6-0 all-time in the desert, including their last national championship victory. Here’s a look at the history, with every game held in Tempe, Ariz., at Sun Devil Stadium.
Penn State 42, Arizona State 30
Offensive MVP: Dennis Sproul, ASU
Defensive MVP: Matt Millen, PSU
Recap: The Lions’ first trip was actually a true road game against the Sun Devils, having missed out on another unbeaten season thanks to an upset loss to Kentucky in October. Penn State was originally set to play BYU, but the Cougars backed out rather than play on a Sunday. Joe Lally’s return of a blocked punt for a touchdown seemed to signal a Penn State rout as the Lions led 14-0 after one quarter. But their edge was just 17-14 at halftime before Penn State took control with a pair of Matt Suhey rushing scores sandwiched around another one by Steve Geise. Penn State hardly needed to pass, rushing for 268 yards with Geise (111) and Bob Torrey (107) both topping the century mark. Pittston Area great Jimmy Cefalo led the Lions with three catches.
Final record/rank: 11-1 (No. 5 AP, No. 4 Coaches)
Penn State 31, Ohio State 19
Offensive MVP: Curt Warner, PSU
Defensive MVP: Frank Case, PSU
Recap: A tough schedule saw the Lions play three top-10 teams in the regular season, losing to Nebraska and Pitt, but beating Missouri. It looked like it would be another disappointment against the 11th-ranked Buckeyes, who led 19-10 at the break. But Penn State’s defense blanked the Bucks in the second half, with Jonathan Williams’ fourth-quarter touchdown run putting the Lions ahead and Booker Moore’s long scoring run putting it away. It was the famed Warner who stole the show, however, rushing for 155 yards on just 18 carries, including a 64-yard touchdown. A sophomore Todd Blackledge completed just eight passes, but an offensive line spearheaded by Scranton’s Mike Munchak paved the way for 351 yards on the ground.
Final record/rank: 10-2 (No. 8 AP, No. 8 Coaches)
Penn State 26, USC 10
Offensive MVP: Curt Warner, PSU
Defensive MVP: Leo Wisniewski, PSU
Recap: The No. 1-ranked Lions’ national title hopes were dashed with two losses in three weeks to Miami and Alabama. So, for the second straight year, it was back to Tempe. And, for the second straight year, it was Warner in the spotlight. This time he ran for 145 yards and two scores to outduel Trojans legend Marcus Allen, who had won the Heisman a few weeks earlier. The Lions held him to just 85 yards on 30 carries as the defense didn’t allow a touchdown in the game. USC’s lone trip to the end zone came on an early pick-six of Todd Blackledge, who rebounded with a deep touchdown pass to Gregg Garrity before halftime. Of course, people remember the encore for those two, which came a year later in the Sugar Bowl to deliver Penn State its first national title.
Final record/rank: 10-2 (No. 3 AP, No. 3 Coaches)
Penn State 14, Miami 10
Offensive MVP: D.J. Dozier, PSU
Defensive MVP: Shane Conlan, PSU
Recap: One of the most famous games in college football history, a ratings giant that boosted the sport’s national profile thanks to the personalities involved and the build-up between the No. 1 Hurricanes and the No. 2 Lions. Miami’s well-earned bravado began to fade, however, as the Canes couldn’t build on a 7-0 lead and quarterback John Shaffer ran one in himself to tie the game before halftime. Dozier finished 1 yard shy of 100 for the game, but his 6-yard touchdown run following a Conlan interception proved to be just enough to win. In the end, the Lions picked off Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde a whopping five times, including Pete Giftopoulos’ famous fourth-and-goal interception with nine seconds left, sealing a second national title in five seasons.
Final record/rank: 12-0 (No. 1 AP, No. 1 Coaches)
Penn State 42, Tennessee 17
Offensive MVP: O.J. McDuffie, PSU
Defensive MVP: Reggie Givens, PSU
Recap: Road losses to USC and Miami landed the Lions out of the title picture, and Joe Paterno’s squad was looking badly outmatched against old Pitt nemesis Johnny Majors and Tennessee. Midway through the third quarter, the Volunteers had run off 17 unanswered points for a 17-7 lead, outgaining Penn State 324-59. What followed was one of the most dramatic turnarounds in program history, perhaps behind only the 1981 comeback against Pitt. In less than eight minutes of game time, the Lions scored five touchdowns to blow away the Vols. Four of Tony Sacca’s 11 completions went for scores, but it was the defense that fueled the victory. Keith Goganious had a bowl-record 14 tackles while Givens came up with a pick-six and a fumble recovery.
Final record/rank: 11-2 (No. 3 AP, No. 3 Coaches)
Penn State 38, Texas 15
Offensive MVP: Curtis Enis, PSU
Defensive MVP: Brandon Noble, PSU
Recap: Despite rising to No. 3 in the polls, October didn’t go well for the Lions, who lost to Ohio State and Iowa. In another familiar trend, the first half of this game was rough, as Penn State went into halftime trailing 12-7. And, like many times before, the defense enabled a big rally. Texas had the future NCAA all-time rushing leader in Ricky Williams as well as another eventual NFL star in Priest Holmes, but the duo managed just a combined 59 yards on the ground. Enis, meanwhile, ran for 95 and scored three touchdowns, including the eventual game-winner that broke a 15-15 tie. Penn State flashed plenty of big plays with Kenny Watson opening the second half with an 81-yard kick return and Chafie Fields going 84 yards on a double reverse.
Final record/rank: 11-2 (No. 7 AP, No. 7 Coaches)
— Compiled by Derek Levarse