Auburn v. Memphis
Legion Field — Birmingham, AL
December 30, 2015 — 12:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
At one time, venerable Legion Field was the preeminent stadium in the Deep South, hosting more than 80,000 fans in Birmingham for major Crimson Tide football games. The venue first hosted bowl games in the years after World War II, had a regular postseason fixture from the late 1970s through 1990, and this year will celebrate a decade of operation for the current bowl in the stadium. While Legion Field is a crumbling edifice that is nowadays largely ignored due to the expansion of campus stadiums in Tuscaloosa and Auburn, it has nearly nine decades of history in the heart of the southern steel industry. One of its old tenants will return this year to face one of the best mid-majors of 2015… and it is highly likely that an SEC loss will be anything but an upset in this battle of Tigers.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Gus Malzahn’s team was a trendy pick to win the SEC in the preseason. Instead the Tigers bottomed out and finished just 2-6 in conference play, wholly dependent on non-conference victories to reach this bowl game. Jeremy Johnson never really took off at quarterback, with a mediocre passing attack ultimately hurting the rushing numbers as well as opponents stacked the box. The defense was nowhere near SEC caliber despite bringing in failed Florida head coach Will Muschamp to take over as defensive coordinator, allowing more points on average than the offense could score. And that defense couldn’t get off the field, as Auburn also ranked outside the top 100 in time of possession. All in all it was anything but a War Eagle season to remember, and it will be interesting to see just how motivated the Tigers are to play in Birmingham.
Motivation shouldn’t be a problem for Memphis, who missed out on a chance to play in a New Year’s Six bowl but still has a chance to knock off a second SEC West opponent this season and finish the year with 10 wins. Memphis was in the top 10 in scoring offense, with senior quarterback and NFL prospect Paxton Lynch throwing for over 3600 yards and 28 touchdowns (against just three interceptions) and a backfield committee finishing in the top 50 in rushing. The defense was far better against the run than the pass, though they finished the year allowing fewer points than their bowl counterpart. One place where Memphis could be hurt in this game is if they continue to take untimely penalties; the Tigers were ranked in the bottom dozen nationally in penalties and yards lost to flags. They could finish the year with three Power Five wins should they manage to knock off Auburn in Birmingham.
What is Likely to Happen
Despite their divergent records, Las Vegas actually favors Auburn over Memphis by a field goal in this showdown. The oddsmakers are putting a lot of faith in an Auburn offense and defense that did little throughout the season to justify that faith. What is more likely to happen is something similar to the script in Memphis’ game against Ole Miss, except more pronounced. Lynch is going to gash the Auburn secondary, throwing for over 300 yards in his final NFL audition before the Combine, and Jeremy Johnson will be unable to take advantage of a weak Memphis secondary to keep Auburn in the game. The Tigers from the AAC will come out heavily on top, controlling the clock and stretching an early lead further and further throughout the showdown. Once the final whistle echoes in Legion Field, Memphis will have as many SEC victories in 2015 as their SEC opponent.
Memphis 44, Auburn 21
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