BYU v. Memphis
Marlins Park — Miami, FL
December 22, 2014 — 2:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
You’ve gone a full day without college football after a glut of games on Saturday. And do you really want to be doing work on a Monday? The bowl schedule is great for providing ample opportunities to focus on something other than the daily routine during the holiday season, and this new bowl offering serves up a great duel between a pair of strong teams. It’s your first chance of the bowl season to watch a conference champion, as well as the first of three contests featuring a dying breed — the independent school. It’s also one of three bowl games taking place at Major League Baseball stadiums this season, replacing AT&T Park on that list.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
It was a season of highs and lows for the Cougars. At one point it looked like BYU might have a strong enough team to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. They started the season 4-0, but a gruesome broken leg suffered by starting quarterback Taysom Hill led to a four-game swoon in the middle of the season. BYU rebounded with a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, as Christian Stewart became more comfortable under center. The Cougars ranked 20th nationally in scoring offense, with a balanced offense that averaged over 450 yards per game. Bronco Mendenhall’s defense held opponents to an average of 11 fewer points per game than the offense put on the scoreboard, going 3-0 versus Power Five opponents and 8-4 overall.
The Tigers won a share of the American Athletic Conference title, going 9-3 in its first season after moving from Conference USA. Memphis also took UCLA to the wire and were within a touchdown of Ole Miss through three quarters of that contest. Their only other loss came against Houston in conference play. The Tigers’ success was built on the foundation of a defense that allowed just 17 points per game; only four other schools in the nation were stingier on defense. They were plenty prolific on offense as well, ranking in the top 30 in points per game with an average of just under five touchdowns per outing. Justin Fuente has executed an amazing turnaround in just his second season at Memphis, and the Tigers have reached their first bowl game since 2008. Now they’ll try to win their first bowl game since the 2005 Motor City Bowl
What is Likely to Happen
BYU is certainly happy to have rebounded and turned around their midseason sputter, but they’re taking on one of the toughest defenses in the country. The Cougars will be playing in their 10th straight bowl game, giving them the experience advantage, but Memphis is likely to be more motivated for a Monday-afternoon game after missing postseason play each of the past five seasons. Look for the Tigers to shut down the BYU offense with its top-five defensive unit, while Paxton Lynch and the Memphis offense find ways to exploit the Cougars D. The early kickoff could leave both teams sluggish in the first half, but Fuente’s crew should be able to do enough to win comfortably against a BYU squad that has faltered after such a promising start to 2014.
Memphis 27, BYU 17