Share Video

Link copied!

Eighth-ranked Oregon likely was one win away from a College Football Playoff spot.

However, the Ducks, No. 5 in the CFP rankings when December began, couldn't get past then-No. 3 Washington in the Pac-12 championship game. The consolation prize is a spot in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day in Glendale, Ariz.

The Ducks (11-2) will face No. 23 Liberty, one of only three undefeated teams in FBS at 13-0. The Flames, champions of Conference USA, are making the school's first appearance in a New Year's Six bowl game and go into the contest as big underdogs to the Pac-12 runners-up.

Liberty is the first ever Conference USA team to make it to a New Year's Six bowl game.

"It's a tremendous challenge for us. They were six points away from playing for the national championship," Flames coach Jamey Chadwell said of the Ducks. "There's no phase, offense, defense or special teams, that they don't have great players. They're well-coached as you continue to watch the video. I need to stop watching the video because it makes me nervous."

But Chadwell enjoys that his team gets to test itself against one of the nation's most successful major college football programs over the past decade-plus -- even though inclement weather on the East Coast delayed Liberty's arrival in the Phoenix area via airplane by several hours Wednesday.

The quarterback matchup is one to watch in the Fiesta Bowl. Heisman Trophy finalist Bo Nix of Oregon is set to play in his final college game after amassing 4,145 passing yards and being responsible for 46 touchdowns in 2023. Liberty's Kaidon Salter was the Group of 5 Player of the Year thanks to 3,814 total yards and being a part of 43 touchdowns, a Liberty single-season record.

Oregon's offense is mostly balanced, while Liberty was better in running the ball this season. The Flames rank No. 1 nationally in rushing offense (302.9 yards per game).

Quinton Cooley leads the way with 1,322 rushing yards, which ranks No. 3 in program history and No. 13 in the nation this season.

On defense, it's Liberty's turnover-forcing unit against the accurate Nix, who threw just three interceptions in 2023. The Flames' 21 interceptions led the nation.

Oregon won't have its best wide receiver, Troy Franklin, who opted out to prepare for the NFL draft. The Ducks will be missing a few other key players on offense and defense due to opt-outs. However, the Ducks will have Nix and likely running back Bucky Irving available along with first-team all-Pac-10 defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus.

Irving has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons at Oregon, and he ran for 10 touchdowns this season.

"The great thing about bowl season is you get an opportunity to go out there and play one more game and more importantly send our seniors off the right way," Oregon head coach Dan Lanning said. "You know, a lot of these guys ... put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this game, and we want the opportunity for them to celebrate that one last time together on the football field."

--Field Level Media

Copyright 2024 STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.