GLENDALE, Ariz. – Ohio State and Notre Dame entered the season with legitimate national championship hopes and were still in the mix for the College Football Playoff late in the year.
To have those hopes dashed, particularly after coming so close, was a huge disappointment for both programs.
It worked out pretty well for the Fiesta Bowl with a marquee matchup that's as good as any outside of the playoff games.
And, despite falling short of their main objectives, the seventh-ranked Buckeyes and eighth-ranked Fighting Irish insist they're excited to be in the desert.
"It's going to be a great bowl game," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "Two traditional powers, Notre Dame and Ohio State, that are a couple plays away from playing for a national championship. There is no place better than to play it than in Glendale."
Well, the Orange and Cotton bowls might be a little better, but these teams came up just short.
Ohio State (11-1) was the defending national champion and spent the season's first 10 weeks at No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 despite inconsistent play by its quarterbacks.
The Buckeyes were still in the coveted top four of the CFP rankings despite dropping behind Clemson in the poll but lost to Michigan State on a last-second field goal in their penultimate game. All the teams ahead of them won on the final weekend, leaving them behind fellow one-loss teams Alabama, Oklahoma and Michigan State in the playoff pecking order.
Ohio State finished No. 7 in the final CFP rankings.
Notre Dame (10-2) fell four points short of its playoff bid despite a litany of injuries.
The Fighting Irish were still in the playoff picture after a two-point loss to top-ranked Clemson on Oct. 3 but fell out after another two-point loss to Stanford on Nov. 28. Notre Dame finished No. 8 in the final CFP rankings.
One big dream gone, but Notre Dame, like Ohio State, is not taking this game lightly.
"I think every bowl game, it's a playoff game now," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "Somebody is going to finish fifth in the final polls. That's a springboard for next year. These are important games."