For the second consecutive year, TCU and BSU faced off in a bowl game of historic significance. In the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, TCU and Boise State played in the first non-BCS game ever in which both teams were ranked higher than both participants in a BCS bowl game in the same season (specifically the 2009 Orange Bowl), with the Horned Frogs winning 17–16.
For the first time ever, two teams from the BCS non-AQ (automatic qualifying) conferences earned BCS bowl berths in the same season. Accordingly, this was the first BCS game ever to feature two such teams. TCU has since joined an AQ conference, the Big 12 Conference, where TCU has reunited with some of their former Southwest Conference rivals.
For the first time ever, a BCS non-AQ conference team was selected via an at-large invitation (BSU). (TCU earned an AQ bid via rule 3 of the BCS selection rules.)
Because both non-AQ teams were placed in the same bowl game, the bowl was derisively referred to as the "Separate But Equal Bowl", the "Quarantine Bowl", the "Fiasco Bowl", the "BCS Kids' Table", etc. Some had called for a boycott because of this. There was wide speculation that the BCS bowl selection committees maneuvered TCU and Boise State into the same bowl so as to deny them the chances to "embarrass" two AQ conference representatives in separate bowls, as Boise State had done in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and Utah had done in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and 2009 Sugar Bowl (prior to the game, non-AQ teams were 3–1 versus AQ teams in BCS bowls). In response, Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker called those allegations "the biggest load of crap that I've ever heard in my life" and said that "[w]e're in the business of doing things that are on behalf of our bowl game and we don't do the bidding of someone else to our detriment." This was a rematch of the Poinsettia Bowl from the previous season.
In the weeks prior to the game, a different controversy arose when past and present employees made public allegations that the Fiesta Bowl had made illegal campaign contributions.
TCU — Curtis Clay 30-yard TD pass from Andy Dalton (Ross Evans kick), 0:49
TCU — Ross Evans 29-yard field goal, 3:52
BSU — Doug Martin rush for 2 yards TD (Kyle Brotzman kick), 7:21
The key play of the game came in the fourth quarter when, faced with fourth down from their own 33, Boise State pulled off another Fiesta Bowl trick play, this time a fake punt, known as "The Riddler". Punter Kyle Brotzman threw a 30-yard pass to Kyle Efaw to keep the drive going, which ultimately resulted in Martin's touchdown run.