Let the partying begin like it’s 2020 in Tucson.
The NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl will feature two 7-5 teams — Wyoming and Georgia State — who have good wins on their resume (more of that later). The game will be played on New Year’s Eve at Arizona Stadium at 2:30 p.m.
That’s ample time for fans to get downtown after for a New Year’s Eve celebration that will be like Times Square, Tucson style. Fireworks will be displayed above Hotel Congress and a giant taco will come down when the clock strikes midnight, Jan. 1, 2020.
With 23 days until then, here’s the start of the hype with the top five intriguing elements of the matchup between the Cowboys and Panthers:
5. Limited Arizona ties
Georgia State — based in Atlanta — has one tie to Arizona. Director of High School Relations, Mark LeGree a former member of the Arizona Cardinals practice squad.
About 60 percent of the Panthers’ roster (56 players) is from Georgia. Practically all are from the southeast with most of the others from Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi.
Wyoming has more Arizona ties, including junior safety Esaias Gandy of Aurora, Colo., being a former Wildcat recruiting target of Rich Rodriguez. Freshman linebacker Shae Suiaunoa was recruited by Kevin Sumlin out of Houston last season.
Phoenix North Canyon grad John Okwoli is a receiver with the Cowboys.
Former Buena standout tackle Sidney Malauulu exhausted his eligibility with the Cowboys last season.
4. Bonus Baby
According to the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, Wyoming coach Craig Bohl is set to receive one month’s worth of his $300,000 base salary ($25,000) as an incentive bonus for the Cowboys being selected to a bowl game. The payment will come from the Cowboy Joe Club, according to the contract.
Should Wyoming win its bowl game, Bohl would earn an additional $25,000 bonus. Including a $625,000 retention bonus, Bohl has already earned $725,000 in bonuses this year.
Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott gets a bonus of $25,000 for getting his team in the bowl. He gets another $25,000 if the Panthers beat Wyoming.
Elliott signed a five-year contract in 2016 with a base salary of $515,000 a year to become Georgia State’s football coach. The contract’s length is from Dec. 8, 2016 until Jan. 31, 2022.
Bohl’s contract is $11.95 million over seven years. The contract started on Jan. 1, 2017 and runs through Dec. 31, 2023.
3. Hello Tucson, nice to meet you
The closest Georgia State has traveled to Tucson was a 2015 game at New Mexico State. The Panthers have played at Pac-12 schools Oregon (61-28 loss in 2015) and Washington (45-14 loss in 2014).
It is a small sample size, however. The Panthers’ football program is only in its 10th season after former Alabama coach Bill Curry was their inaugural coach in 2010.
Wyoming will play in Tucson for the first time in 26 years. The Cowboys were a former WAC foe of Arizona’s so the Cowboys have a history in Tucson. They have not played the Wildcats here since the 1976 season.
Although this is the Cowboys’ first appearance in the Arizona Bowl, they played twice in the Copper Bowl at Arizona Stadium. They lost 17-15 against California in the 1990 game and 52-17 against Kansas State in the 1993 game.
2. Strength vs. Strength
Georgia State features the Sun Belt’s leading rusher, senior Tra Barnett (1,389 yards and 12 TDs). The Panthers rank in the top 4 in the Sun Belt in total yards, points and rushing offense.
Wyoming has the Mountain West’s No. 4 overall defense and second-ranked scoring and rushing defense.
Nationally, Georgia State is 14th averaging 245.2 yards a game on the ground. Wyoming’s rushing defense is No. 6 nationally allowing only 99.4 rushing yards a game.
Wyoming senior strong safety Alijah Halliburton leads the Cowboys with 119 tackles, including 10 for loss. He has two sacks, an interception and fumble recovery.
1. Both teams opened season with wins over SEC schools
On the same day (Aug. 29), by nearly the same score, Georgia State and Wyoming upset SEC teams to start the season.
Georgia State shocked Tennessee with a 38-30 season-opening win at Neyland Stadium at Knoxville, Tenn., behind Dan Ellington’s two TD passes and a rushing score. The Panthers were a 25-point underdog.
Wyoming hosted Missouri at Laramie, Wyo., and beat the Tigers 37-31.
Elliott was an assistant coach at Appalachian State when the Mountaineers — a Football Championship Subdivision program at the time — stunned a fifth-ranked Michigan squad in the first week of the 2007 season.
“Two totally different scenarios,” Elliott told reporters after the Tennessee game. “We had 63 scholarships [then], going to play the Michigan Wolverines with 85. We walked in here with 83 scholarships. They possibly had 85, I’m not sure. We were on an even scale, so to speak.”
Headed to the Arizona Bowl!
Wyoming quarterback Sean Chambers rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown, Xazavian Valladay had 118 yards rushing and a score to lead the Cowboys in their upset win.
Chambers, who later in the season was lost with a knee injury, averaged 10 yards on each of his 12 rushing attempts. He also completed 6 of 16 passes for 92 yards for a Wyoming team that took advantage of three Missouri turnovers.
Your Panthers are headed to Tucson!
“Anytime I see space, I just think to myself, I’m better than them,” Chambers told reporters. “No disrespect to those guys, but that’s just my mentality. I gotta think it’s gotta take more than one guy to bring me down.”
Valladay averaged 7.9 yards on 15 carries as Wyoming grounded out 297 yards on 42 carries as a team.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.