Monday, December 15, 2014

Three Thoughts on the Miami Beach Bowl

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 8:39 AM

Allow me a few quibbles with the Tigers’ upcoming tilt in the Miami Beach Bowl. (I know, I know . . . . It’s been six years. Anything with “Bowl” in it will do.) I’m not big on indoor football, particularly when the football is being played in south Florida, so please . . . keep that retractable roof open, rain or shine. The stadium’s capacity (at least for baseball) is just over 37,000, ironic when you consider the cavernous Liberty Bowl where the Tigers play their home games. And finally, a college bowl game played on Monday afternoon (three days before Christmas)? Here’s hoping the game is a welcome break from work and/or shopping for Tiger fans unable to make the trip to Miami. As odd as the place and timing of the game may be, it could be a distinctive marker on the University of Memphis football timeline. A win would secure just the second 10-win season in the program’s 103-year history, and the first since 1938. (Those ’38 Tigers beat the likes of Millsaps, Cumberland College, and Delta State on their way to a 10-0 season.) Quibbles aside, I love the warm-weather reward for coach Justin Fuente and his team, particularly for the seniors who began their college careers with the 2-10 mess of 2011.

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A special Memphis football season received proper formal acclaim last week when the program was lavished with honors by the American Athletic Conference. Justin Fuente was named Coach of the Year (a first for the Tigers since Spook Murphy earned honors in the Missouri Valley Conference 43 years ago), linebacker Tank Jakes shared Defensive Player of the Year (with UCF cornerback Jacoby Glenn), and kicker Jake Elliott was named Special Teams Player of the Year. No fewer than six Tigers were named first-team all-conference: Jakes, Elliott, tight end Alan Cross, offensive lineman Al Bond, defensive end Martin Ifedi, and cornerback Bobby McCain. Second-team recognition went to quarterback Paxton Lynch, running back Brandon Hayes, wide receiver Keiwone Malone, and punter Spencer Smith.

Look at the positions among those ten all-conference selections. They represent every position group — from skill players to offensive and defensive lines, secondary, and special teams — on a football field. What an extraordinary and comprehensive endorsement of the historic season these players (and several teammates) put together. Even with a bowl game to play, you start to wonder if the 2014 Tigers will be an impossible act to follow next season. Great problem to have.

• One of just four FBS independents, BYU committed to the Miami Beach Bowl before the 2014 season began, its only requirement, of course, being six wins (they finished 8-4). The Cougars won their first four games, including a pair against American Athletic Conference teams (UConn and Houston). Star quarterback Taysom Hill broke his leg in BYU’s fifth game, a loss to Utah State. And they lost their next three, including an overtime thriller against another AAC foe, co-champ UCF. The Cougars finished their season with four wins, including a 27-7 victory over Middle Tennesssee in Murfreesboro on November 1st. Hill’s replacement, Christian Stewart, passed for 2,273 yards, 22 touchdowns, and just six interceptions over the eight games he played. The Cougars averaged 36.2 points per game (20th in the country, not quite two more points per game than the Tigers averaged).

I’ve long adhered to the adage that a good defense will thwart a good offense on the football field. And that will be the hope next Monday when the Tiger defense — led by star seniors Ifedi, Jakes, McCain, and Terry Redden — takes the field at Marlins Park. Memphis finished fifth in the country in scoring defense (17.1 points per game), behind only Ole Miss, Stanford, LSU, and Alabama. The Tigers ranked 22nd in total defense (allowing 343.3 yards per game) while the Cougars averaged 462.5 yards of offense. If the Tigers take care of the football, as they have since the Houston loss in mid-October, I think they’ll come home on a seven-game winning streak.

The pick: Memphis 37, BYU 27

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