College Football

Coan, Sanders looking to lead their teams to Fiesta Bowl win

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

By JOHN MARSHALL

AP Sports Writer

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Jack Coan dreamed of playing in a Notre Dame uniform and had his chance when he committed to playing lacrosse for the Irish.

After a four-year detour through Wisconsin, Coan is getting his opportunity to wear blue and gold - as a football player.

"Obviously, I was coming here for lacrosse, then when I was in the transfer portal and Notre Dame came around and offered me to come here, it sort of just felt like it was meant to be," Coan said. "So every day just feels like a blessing to be here and I'm just super excited for this last opportunity."

That last chance will come on New Year's Day in the Fiesta Bowl, where he and Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders will likely have a big say in which team ends on a winning note after a season that came oh so close to a spot in the College Football Playoff.

No. 5 Notre Dame (11-2) had the resume, its only loss coming to Cincinnati on Oct. 2. The Fighting Irish were in it until the end, needing a few things to shake out on the final weekend of the regular season to reach the CFP for the first time since 2019.

The chips didn't fall the right way and Notre Dame ended up fifth in the CFP rankings, one out of the playoff.

No. 9 Oklahoma State (11-2) was even closer - a matter of inches.

The Cowboys rallied from an 18-point deficit in the Big 12 championship game and put together a last-second drive behind Sanders. They just missed when Dezmon Jackson came up inches short of the end zone pylon on the final play, allowing Baylor to hold on for a 21-16 win.

Now Coan and Sanders have a chance to cap their seasons with a major-bowl win in the desert. Not a playoff, but maybe the next best thing.

"It's going to be exciting," Sanders said. "It will be one for the books."

For Sanders, it will be a continuation of a steady climb since he arrived in Stillwater and a chance for a bit of redemption.

The 6-foot-1 quarterback was a star at Billy Ryan High School, earning Gatorade state player of the year and Mr. Texas Football honors. He had multiple collegiate offers and ended up at Oklahoma State, where he redshirted as a freshman.

Sanders set a school freshman record with 2,065 yards passing and accounted for 18 touchdowns despite missing the final two games with an injury. He followed that up by throwing for 2,007 yards and 14 TDs as a sophomore, capping it by being named MVP of the Cheez-It Bowl.

Sanders' junior season has been a bit up and down. He accounted for 3,011 yards - 2,468 passing - and 22 touchdowns but had some rough moments along the way.

Sanders threw three interceptions in an Oct. 10 win over Baylor and had a hard time getting the Cowboys' offense moving in a loss to Iowa State three weeks later.

In the rematch against Baylor in the Big 12 title game, Sanders had four interceptions, but bounced back to lead Oklahoma State down the field on the final, just-short drive.

"Right now, as we move into it, I don't think he's thinking about it at all," Cowboys offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said. "The kid is pretty resilient. We all saw that on the final drive of the game."

Coan has a bit of resiliency in him as well.

The 6-foot-3 quarterback from Sayville, New York, saw limited action as a freshman at Wisconsin and started four games as a sophomore. Coan appeared to be making a star turn in 2019, completing a school-record 236 passes for 2,727 yards - third-most in school history - with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions.

The upward trajectory halted in 2020, when he missed the entire season after breaking his foot in practice.

Coan opted to fulfill his dream of playing at Notre Dame as a graduate transfer and turned out to be better than the Irish expected, throwing for 2,641 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"From a physical standpoint, I said it from the first practice we had with him, he's physically more gifted than he was advertised," Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said. "His ability to make all the throws, his ability to stand firm in the pocket, his mental capacity to play his position is as high as anyone in the country. I think he's been extremely underrated throughout this entire season."

Now he gets a chance to cap it with a Fiesta Bowl win - just like Sanders.

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Updated December 30, 2021

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