The Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl will feature two teams making their Tucson postseason debuts.
Central Michigan, representing the Mid-American Conference, will face Boise State of the Mountain West Conference on Dec. 31 at Arizona Stadium. The Broncos will be playing their first-ever football game in Tucson; Central Michigan played the UA at Arizona Stadium in 2009.
This year marks the seventh Arizona Bowl in history, and the second since the MAC and Mountain West signed new deals with the game.
Boise State (7-5) finished third in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. Central Michigan (8-4) was second in the MAC West.
Boise State has the biggest national brand of any Mountain West Conference team. Bowl officials have long kept an eye on the Broncos, who have been bowl-eligible for the last 24 years, the second-longest streak in the nation behind Georgia. (The Broncos opted out of last year’s postseason because of the pandemic).
“We’ve been watching both of these teams all season, as you could imagine,” Arizona Bowl executive director Kym Adair told the Star. “We’ve had our eyes on both of these teams ever since we signed our new deal with the conferences, because we wanted powerhouse programs that had a lot of bowl experience would bring a heck of a matchup to our fans and the fans that are traveling.
“Both of these teams nailed that for us this year, and we’re thrilled to have them and bring them to Southern Arizona.”
Central Michigan, coached by former Florida boss Jim McElwain, boasts one of the top rushing offenses in college football. The Chippewas are led by star running back Lew Nicholls III, who leads Division I FBS with 1,710 yards and 15 touchdowns. CMU also has a pair of first-team All-MAC wide receivers in Kalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan.
Boise State comes to Tucson with wins over both BYU and Fresno State, and boasting the top red-zone offense in the Mountain West.
“We’re blessed for this opportunity from a couple of different standpoints,” said first-year Boise State head coach Andy Avalos. “It’s going to help us continue to grow as a team during the month of December and it’s going to — as I told our guys this morning — reveal to us how we prepare, continue to develop and show us what we learned, especially down the back half of the season.”
Avalos said BSU was the Arizona Bowl’s top selection since the Mountain West champion, Utah State, is playing in the Jimmy Kimmel L.A. Bowl.
“We’re blessed that we were their choice and that they want us to be a part of their matchup,” he said.
The Arizona Bowl is in its first season under the Barstool sponsorship following deals with NOVA Home Loans and Offerpad. This year’s game will be streamed on Barstool’s digital platforms rather than shown on over-the-air television. Asked if that was a concern, Avalos, 40, called it “the way of life.”
“My kids watch streaming, everyone streams these days, so it’s the direction that things are moving. ... This is going to be a new opportunity for us in a new era,” Avalos said.
The Arizona bowl kicks off a noon. Creed lead singer Scott Stapp will perform at halftime; following the game, the bowl will hold a New Year’s bash downtown.
The Arizona Bowl will return to full capacity this year after holding last year’s game between Ball State and San Jose State in an empty stadium. Adair says she expects “a pretty good turnout,” but noted that ticket sales are hard to project “because of the (COVID-19) issues still around and people traveling.”
“We expect a lot of fans that will make their way out to Southern Arizona from both of these areas,” Adair said. “It’ll also attract a lot of fan interest from people in this area that want to come watch these two teams compete. We’re optimistic that we’ll have a full stadium.”