Two of the more interesting Group of Five programs from the past few seasons will square off Wednesday when Memphis and FAU meet in the Montgomery Bowl to cap their 2020 seasons. Both teams reached double-digit victories in two of the past three seasons but enter this bowl season having remade themselves a bit in 2020 under new head coaches.
Despite losing star running back Kenneth Gainwell and star receiver Damonte Coxie to opt outs, the Tigers (7-3) still managed to field an effective offense in coach Ryan Silverfield’s first year on the job after former coach Mike Norvell left for Florida State. Similarly, FAU is 5-3 in its first season under Willie Taggart after Lane Kiffin left for Ole Miss following a three-year tenure atop the Owls’ program. FAU’s offense has taken a step back this season, but its defense has taken a step forward.
This game is a rematch of the 2007 New Orleans Bowl that FAU won 44-27. Back then, the Owls were in just their second season as an FBS program and playing in their first bowl game. Memphis, meanwhile, was enjoying its final winning season before a streak of six straight losing campaigns. But the last few seasons have brought conference titles for both teams and a sense of long-term stability. Those recent successes will be on display as they prepare to meet in a bowl game once again.
Memphis: When Norvell left for Florida State, Silverfield got the promotion to head coach from assistant head coach after serving on Norvell’s staff for four seasons. With star quarterback Brady White returning along with Gainwell and Coxie, it made sense for the Tigers to go with continuity instead of trying to make an outside hire who would switch things up on a solid returning core. But when Gainwell and Coxie opted out, it was fair to wonder what would happen to the 2020 Tigers. They did lose a step compared to last season’s AAC title team. However, Memphis managed to identify new playmakers like receiver Calvin Austin and tight end Sean Dykes, who helped the Tigers snap a 13-game losing streak to UCF and put together a solid season
FAU: Taggart’s redemption tour got off to a 5-1 start before the Owls dropped consecutive games to Georgia Southern and Southern Miss to close the regular season. The former Oregon and Florida State coach appears to have made a solid pick for defensive coordinator in Jim Leavitt. The former longtime South Florida coach did not allow an opponent to surpass 20 points this season until the 45-31 loss to Southern Miss on Dec. 10. By contrast, seven of FAU’s 14 opponents surpassed 20 points last year in Kiffin’s final season as head coach. The trade off has been an offense that is averaging more than 100 fewer yards per game than it did last seaon.
Game: Montgomery Bowl
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 23 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Cramton Bowl — Montgomery, Alabama
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Montgomery Bowl prediction, picks
Memphis would have only covered a spread this large in three of its seven victories this season, and two of those times were against a 1-6 Temple team and Stephen F. Austin from the FCS level. So while the Tigers are likely the better the team and a good pick for a straight-up win, FAU’s defense is good enough to keep the Tigers under control and keep this game close. Pick: FAU +8.5 | Memphis 24, FAU 20
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