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December 5, 2005

ND, Ohio St. return to the desert

TEMPE, Ariz. - Matching Ohio State against Notre Dame ended up being an easy decision for the Fiesta Bowl.

The Buckeyes will be making their third appearance at Sun Devil Stadium in four years. Notre Dame returns to the Bowl Championship Series at the site of its last appearance five years ago, and it's last national title in 1989.

Leading up to college football's Selection Sunday, it was practically a foregone conclusion that the Fiesta Bowl would select the Fighting Irish, but there was much speculation about whether Ohio State or Oregon would be the opponent.

Ultimately, there was really no choice to be made.

The Buckeyes finished fourth in the final BCS standings, earning an automatic spot in the four big-money bowl games. The Irish also qualified automatically by finishing sixth. In the end, there were no at-large bids available for Oregon (10-1).

"There are other great teams who unquestionably deserve to be in, but there's a limited number of bowl spots available, which makes playing in a BCS bowl game special," Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said.

Oregon's only loss was to Southern California, but the Irish played the top-ranked Trojans even tougher, winning their last five games after falling 34-31 to USC, when Mat Leinart pushed into the end zone in the final seconds.

Notre Dame also dropped a 44-41 contest in overtime to Michigan State on Sept. 17.

Ohio State (9-2) won its last six after a 17-10 loss at Penn State on Oct. 8, costing it the Big Ten tiebreaker against the Nittany Lions when that came into play at the end of the season. The Buckeyes other loss was a 25-22 decision to Texas, which will play USC for the national crown, on Sept. 10.

"Our goal is always to have a chance to play in the national championship game ... and the second goal is a BCS game," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel

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He added, "I think there will be as many people watching," the Fiesta Bowl as the Rose Bowl.

Junker acknowledged that it was unusual for a team to play in a major bowl three times in four years.

"But the research we did and the people we talked to, it was very clear that if there was an exception it would be to match up these two programs, and there's no question that the economic impact on the Valley (of the Sun) and the state of Arizona would be huge," Junker said.

Arizona's history as a refuge for people from the Midwest seeking a warmer, drier climate did nothing but add to the attractiveness of the matchup.

Notre Dame, which beat the Buckeyes in 1935-36 and lost to them in 1995-96, was an obvious choice. Under first-year coach Charlie Weis, they improved from 6-5 in 2004 to 9-2. Notre Dame's No. 5 ranking is its highest at the end of the regular season since the Irish were fourth heading into the bowls in 1993.

The Buckeyes feature one of the nation's toughest defenses, led by stellar linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter.

Notre Dame's revival has been led by an Ohioan. Quarterback Brady Quinn completed 65 percent of his passes this season with 32 touchdowns passes and only seven interceptions.

"Brady was a great high school quarterback and we were very interested in him coming here," Tressel said. "He's done a great job. He took the opportunities at Notre Dame and has grown with them."

Notre Dame has lost seven straight bowl games, including the Insight Bowl in Phoenix last season after coach Tyrone Willingham had been fired.

"That's something that obviously needs to end," Quinn said of the losing streak. "It's been going on far too long. That is one of our goals, ending that streak."

For more coverage of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, check out IrishIllustrated.com, and for more coverage of the Ohio State Buckeyes, check out BuckeyeSportsBulletin.com



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