DALLAS (FWAA) – The Penn State Nittany Lions fought through a swirl of emotions in a pre-game ceremony honoring thir seniors, then honed in to grind past Wisconsin in overtime Saturday for a 24-21 win. By closing a challenging season with a win over the Big Ten Leaders Division champions, the Nittany Lions (8-4) earned the honor of Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week for games of the weekend of Nov. 24.
The announcement came exclusively on SiriusXM Radio’s “College Sports Today,” hosted by Mark Packer and Eddie George.
The game-winner came from Sam Ficken on the first possession of overtime on a 37-yard kick, the longest of his three field goals on the day. The Penn State defense held Wisconsin on its possession, and the Badgers’ field goal attempt was wide left to end the game.
Zach Zwinak bounded through the Wisconsin defense for a career-high 179 yards on 36 carries, which pushed him over 1,000 yards for the season along with the distinction of gaining the most yards against a Wisconsin defense that ranked 12th in the nation in rushing defense (111 per game). The sophomore’s total marked the eighth consecutive season that Penn State has had a 1,000-yard rusher.
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill was a beast on defense with a career-best 12 tackles, three for loss along with two sacks. The senior had eight tackles and a sack in the fourth quarter and overtime alone to spark the win.
“I feel great for these kids, especially these seniors. They put in a lot of work,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “You go all the way back to when I first came here after the Super Bowl and started the 5:30 a.m. workouts, then all of the things that came up during the offseason off the field. You just can’t say enough about these kids. I’ve been around some special teams and this is a very special football team because of the players and especially the seniors. … It would’ve been terrible to come in here and not win that game after that pre-game ceremony.”
Other Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week nominees for the weekend of Nov. 24 included:
• San Jose State (10-2): The Spartans won their sixth straight and secured a 10-win season for the first time since 1987 in a 52-43 shootout with Louisiana Tech. Bene Benwikere tied a school single-game record with three interceptions, and De’Leon Eskridge pounded his way for 217 rushing yards and three touchdowns as part of San Jose State’s 610-yard night on offense.
• TCU (7-4): The Horned Frogs put a big stamp on their first season in the Big 12 with a 20-13 win at Texas on Thanksgiving. TCU’s defense forced four turnovers, including two passes in the shadow of their own goal post, and showed dominance on the line as well rushing for 217 yards on 48 carries.
• Vanderbilt (8-4): The Commodores continued their fine season with a 55-21 win at Wake Forest, extending their longest win streak since 1955 to six, and is bowl-bound with an eight-win season for the first time since 1982. Vanderbilt gained a 1,000-yard rusher (Zac Stacy) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Jordan Matthews) Saturday, and kicker Carey Spear’s 13 points in the game set a school record with 81 points on the season.
The Football Writers Association of America has named a national team of the week since the 2002 season. This is the eighth season that the award has been sponsored by the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Members of the FWAA All-America Committee have decided the weekly honor. Each Monday during the 2012 college football regular season, the FWAA has named the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week. The winner was announced on the SiriusXM College Sports Nation channel. This is the final week the award will be presented this season.
Founded in 1971, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl has hosted seven games that have decided the college football national championship, including four Bowl Championship Series title games. This season, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will be played on Jan. 3, 2013, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl will be played on Dec. 29, 2012, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
The Football Writers Association of America, a non-profit organization founded in 1941, consists of more than 1,200 men and women who cover college football for a living. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include gameday operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-713-6198.
For more information on the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week, go to footballwriters.com or fiestabowl.org.
2012 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Teams of the Week
• Weekend of Sept. 1: Ohio Bobcats
• Weekend of Sept. 8: ULM Warhawks
• Weekend of Sept. 15: Stanford Cardinal
• Weekend of Sept. 22: Kansas State Wildcats
• Weekend of Sept. 29: Washington Huskies
• Weekend of Oct. 6: N.C. State Wolfpack
• Weekend of Oct. 13: Texas Tech Red Raiders
• Weekend of Oct. 20: Duke Blue Devils
• Weekend of Oct. 27: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
• Weekend of Nov. 3: Alabama Crimson Tide, Oregon Ducks
• Weekend of Nov. 10: Texas A&M Aggies
• Weekend of Nov. 17: Baylor Bears
• Weekend of Nov. 24: Penn State Nittany Lions