Arizona Bowl

“Lemons into Lemonade”: In COVID-19 era, Arizona Bowl gets ideal matchup of Ball State-San Jose State on national TV

Two conference champions pitted against each other on national television is the ideal setup for the Arizona Bowl in these problematic times because of COVID-19.

Ball State, the Mid-American Conference champions, will play San Jose State, the titlist of the Mountain West Conference, in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve at noon on CBS.

The pairing was announced this morning by the Arizona Bowl via Twitter:

“It’s lemons into lemonade,” said Ali Farhang, the Arizona Bowl founder and chairman. “Honestly, these are the two best stories in college football this year and the matchup with the perfect bowl game.

“Ball State, the freshmen on their team didn’t win a Mid-American Conference game and now they’re seniors and they’re the champions. San Jose State is 7-0 and by far one of the best stories in college football. And in five years, the Arizona Bowl has gone from streaming online on a Tuesday night to CBS at noon on New Year’s Eve. It’s quite a convergence.”

Although this is one of the most anticipated matchups of the Arizona Bowl, little to no fan participation will be directly involved in the sixth year of the event because of COVID-19.

As of now, no fans, not even family members of the players on both teams, are allowed to attend. None of the fan events, such as the pep rallies, the dropping of the taco near Hotel Congress downtown on New Year’s Eve and team activities at a local hotel or restaurant, will take place.

“At the end of the day, we’re making the best of a situation that’s been very difficult for everybody this year,” Farhang said. “I wish there could be thousands of fans. I really do know.

“Everybody has that nightmare in high school, where you show up in the hallways and you’re the only one who’s naked, right? My nightmare for the Arizona Bowl is I walk through the tunnel and there’s nobody in the stands. I am actively trying to make that happen on purpose.”

San Jose State features coach Brent Brennan, reported to be one of the leading candidates for the Arizona coaching vacancy. Brennan was a graduate assistant under Dick Tomey at Arizona in 2000. He is the brother of former Arizona receiver Brad Brennan.

Brennan coached the Spartans to their first MWC title with their 34-20 win over Boise State in the championship Saturday at Las Vegas. Brennan was 3-22 in his first two seasons with the Spartans, the program Tomey coached after his Arizona career concluded. In the last two seasons, he has coached them to a 12-7 mark.

Brennan, who is 15-29 at San Jose State, has used the theme “Climb the Mountain” to get his team motivated to make strides to improve the program.

“What a night for San Jose State University,” he told media after beating Boise State. “What a night for our players and our fans. It’s just been a beautiful journey. It’s been magical.”

Ball State won its first MAC championship since 1996 in a 38-28 win over Buffalo on Friday night at Detroit.

Mike Neu, the Cardinals’ coach, has a background in coaching in the Arena Football League from 1998 to 2008. He has served as a quarterback coach with Tulane (2012 and 2013) and the New Orleans Saints (2014 and 2015). He was a scout with the Saints from 2009 to 2011.

In his fifth season at Ball State, Neu is experiencing his first winning season. He is 21-34 overall in his career.

“We are thrilled for the honor to represent the MAC at the Arizona Bowl against an incredibly talented team in San Jose State,” Neu said in a Ball State press release. “Our team has worked so hard and persevered through so much to become champions and to earn the chance to play on a stage like this.

“We are thankful to CBS, the Arizona Bowl and the MAC for their work in making this game happen despite the obstacles of this year.”

New Mexico State when it was presented the Arizona Bowl trophy in 2017 (Arizona Bowl photo)

Farhang said that despite those obstacles brought on by the COVID-19 the Arizona Bowl continued to try to give back to the community through activities such as diaper drives and school-supply drives, and raising money and awareness for the Boys & Girls Club.

The Arizona Bowl wanted to follow through with the “tradition we’re building being a bedrock in this community,” Farhang said.

“I’m just really proud of the group of people that are invested in the Arizona Bowl, and I think we’re just getting started,” he added. “I think as great as this is, our best days are ahead.”

Farhang said three important components are in place for the Arizona Bowl: Showcasing the best of Tucson and Southern Arizona, the economic impact of the event, and the philanthropy and the giving.

Although the Arizona Bowl is unable stage fundraising activities in public in the days leading up to the Arizona Bowl like in years past, Farhang said his committee came up with an idea called the “Four Quarters of Giving.” The bowl has paired up with local charities and CBS to bring about the opportunity for donations from viewers watching the game.

A non-profit organization will be highlighted during each quarter of the game, on the national broadcast and social media. Donations can be made to the charity during a specific quarter.

The four organizations that will be featured in each quarter are Primavera Foundation of Tucson, the Boys and Girls Club of Tucson, the Tucson Community Food Bank and the Ronald McDonald House of Tucson.

“This may be another overtime game for us,” Farhang said. “Any money that comes in overtime and after the game will be divided equally among the non-profits.

“It’s something that we can utilize the national platform to help local organizations that do a lot of good in our community. I thought it was an awesome idea. I think it’s something that we may do every year.”


TUCSON TREASURES: Arizona Bowl founder and chairman Ali Farhang

Click here to read the article about Farhang.
Ali Farhang (Farhang photo)

The Arizona Bowl is taking the place of the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl at El Paso, which has traditionally occupied the noon-time television spot on New Year’s Eve but was canceled due to COVID-19. The Arizona Bowl was initially scheduled to be a mid-afternoon kickoff on the CBS Sports Network.

The game was able to attract the MWC champion because the inaugural LA Bowl, which was supposed to have featured the MWC champion against a Pac-12 team, was called off because of the pandemic.

The MAC champion became available to the Arizona Bowl when the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit was also canceled.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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.

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