The Fiesta Bowl marks the first ever matchup between Notre Dame and 11-2, Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys finished just inches from a birth in the college football playoff when they were stopped just short of the goal line on the last play of the game in their conference championship against Baylor.
OSU head Coach Mike Gundy is in his 17th season in Stillwater and has a 10-5 record in bowl games.
Besides Baylor, the Cowboys other loss was back in week 7, at Iowa State, 24-21. Their best win was over Oklahoma in the regular season finale, 37-33.
6-1, 210 -pound red shirt junior Spencer Sanders leads the offense, that ranks 51st in scoring, 46th in rushing, and 76th in passing. Sanders is a dual threat quarterback who has completed 61% of his passes for 2,468 yards and 16 touchdowns, he also has thrown 12 interceptions, including 4 in that last game against Baylor. Sanders loves to scramble and is very effective escaping the pocket up the middle. On the year he has run for 543 yards and 6 TDS.
Their top running back is senior Jaylen Warren who has had a big season, with 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns but was slowed in November and missed the Big 12 championship game with ankle and shoulder injuries. He is backed up by a trio of effective runners, but Warren is expected to play against the Irish.
6-2, 183-pound Tay Martin is the top receiver with 70 catches for 942 yards and 7 TDs. Martin does most of his damage underneath as his longest catch of the year is just 38 yards. After Martin the Cowboys have several young players who have contributed more and more as the season wore on. Sophomore Brenna Presley has 40 catches and 5 TDs out of the slot, and freshman Jaden Bray looks to have big play capability.
The Cowboys will be without their defensive coordinator from the last three years, Jim Knowles. Knowles was hired away by Ohio State after the regular season, but count on Oklahoma State to play great defense. They lead the nation in sacks with 54 and in tackles for loss with 113. They are the 7th best scoring defense allowing just 16.8 points per game and the are 3rd in total defense allowing just 278 yards per game.
Linebacker Malcom Rodriguez has led the Cowboys three straight years in tackles and is a key to the OSU run defense which has limited opponents to just 91. 1 yards per game. Freshman defensive end Collin Oliver has 11.5 of the Cowboy’s nation leading 55 sacks and he will need to be accounted for on every play, but so will senior Brock Martin who mans the other end. Martin has notched 7 sacks of his own.
The Cowboys have made 8 interceptions on the year, and safeties Kolby Harvell-Peel and Jason Taylor have combined for 5 of them. Seniors Jarrick Bernard-Converse and Christian Homes man the cornerback positions.
Since Knowles took over in Stillwater three years ago, the Cowboys have placed an emphasis on defense and this year it has really paid off. They are solid at every level, boast plenty of experience and have several playmakers.
Overall, there are no glaring weaknesses on this team which is led by one of the top defenses in the nation.
The Irish are an improved team but will miss their top playmaker Kyren Williams both running the ball and pass protecting as they endeavor to solve the OSU defense. Look for Notre Dame to get back to shorter drops and quick passes by Jack Coan to deal with a ferocious pass rush. Notre Dame, of course, also plays good defense and will present Spencer Sanders with some significant problems.
Two good defenses signal a low scoring game that may come down to a turnover or two. Forcing such errors has been an ND forte this season, and a bit of a problem for Sanders.
TV coverage New Year’s day is on ESPN and starts at 1 PM (EDT)
ND is a 2 point favorite and the over/under is 45.5
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: Notre Dame 20 Oklahoma State 17