Something’s got to give when American Athletic Conference tri-champion Memphis Tigers meet BYU in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl, at 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 22, at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla.
The Tigers (9-3, 7-1) ride into South Beach on a six-game win streak while the Cougars (6-4) captured their final four games of the 2014 regular season. Both teams look to continue their winning ways in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The game will air on ESPN and will be accessible on multiple mobile platforms via the WatchESPN app.
“We’re thrilled to have two red-hot teams to showcase in our first bowl game,” said
Carlos Padilla, II, Executive Director of the Miami Beach Bowl.
Memphis shared the 2014 AAC title with Cincinnati and UCF. All three teams had 9-3 overall records and 7-1 league marks. BYU lost at UCF 31-24 in overtime in quarterback Christian Stewart’s first start after Heisman hopeful Taysom Hill went down with a season-ending injury.
Stewart threw for 2,273 yards and 22 TDs this season with just six interceptions. He completed 59 percent of his passes (176-for-300). Mitch Mathews (64-840-8) and Jordan Leslie (54-756-5) lead the Cougars in receiving.
Third-year coach Justin Fuente led Memphis to its first conference championship since 1971. The former TCU co-offensive coordinator took over a football program that hadn’t posted a winning record since 2007 and is now one victory away from tying the school record for wins set back in 1938. The nine wins this season are the most by the Tigers since 2003.
Fuente is one of eight finalists for the 2014 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. The winner will be announced on Monday, Dec. 15. The Football Writers Association of America has presented a coaching award since the 1957 season when Ohio State’s Woody Hayes was named the first recipient.
In alphabetical order, the other finalists are: Baylor’s Art Briles, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, Oregon’s Mark Helfrich, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, TCU’s Gary Patterson and Alabama’s Nick Saban.
The Tigers are averaging more than 34 points per game with trigger man Paxton Lynch, a 6-7 sophomore, under center while the defense ranks fifth nationally allowing just 17 points per game. Lynch threw for 2,725 yards and 18 TDs, completing 64 percent (235-for-367) of his passes and just six interceptions.
The trio of Mose Frazier, Keiwone Malone and Tevin Jones combined for 115 pass receptions and nearly 1,400 yards.
“We have a special group of kids who have worked extremely hard for what they have accomplished this year,” said Fuente. “They have adhered to the values of selflessness, teamwork and playing together. This bowl invitation is a reward for the season they have had. We look forward to representing the American Athletic Conference in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl and playing a quality, tradition-rich opponent in BYU.”
Memphis will be playing in its seventh bowl game all-time, and first since a 41-14 loss to South Florida in the 2008 St. Petersburg Bowl. The Tigers are 4-3 in bowl games, but will look to snap a two-game bowl skid. The Tigers fell 44-27 to Florida Atlantic in the 2007 New Orleans Bowl. Memphis last won a bowl game in 2005, defeating Akron, 38-31, in the Motor City Bowl.
The Tigers’ roster includes 10 players from the state of Florida The list includes starting safety Fritz Etienne (Monsignor Pace High School), and defensive backs Chauncey Lanier (Davie), Chris Morley (Plantation) and Dion Witty (Coral Springs).
BYU opened the season with four consecutive victories, including a road win over Texas, and reached a No. 18 ranking before a season-ending injury to Hill. But despite a rough October the Cougars finished with a flurry.
BYU is one of just 12 programs to earn a bowl invitation for a 10th-straight season. Only Florida State with seven bowl wins has topped BYU’s 6-3 bowl record in that time frame.
“Our team is excited to be in the postseason for a 10th-straight season and looking forward to the challenge of facing Memphis in the Miami Beach Bowl,” said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Memphis and BYU have played three common opponents in 2014 with games against Connecticut, Houston and Middle Tennessee. BYU won all three games (35-10 at UConn, 33-25 over Houston, and 27-7 at Middle Tennessee). Memphis went 2-1, defeating Middle Tennessee (36-17) and UConn (41-10) at home while dropping a 28-24 decision to Houston.
Game tickets are priced at $60 and can be purchased online at www.marlins.com/events, by telephone at 1-877-Marlins or in person at Marlins Park (Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.).