The Memphis Tigers (9-3, 5-3 AAC) look for double-digit wins two seasons in a row when they take on the Auburn Tigers (6-6, 2-6 SEC) in the Birmingham Bowl on Wednesday afternoon.
Considering both schools’ proximity to Legion Field in the city of Birmingham, both sets of Tigers fans should be well-represented. Auburn is just over 100 miles away, just a two hour drive while Memphis is about 230 miles away, and a three-and-a-half hour trip to the game.
Memphis reached as high as No. 15 on the AP Poll in Week 10 behind junior quarterback Paxton Lynch. However, coach Justin Fuente’s squad didn’t begin receiving national attention until they shocked then-No. 13 Ole Miss 37-24 in October for their sixth win. They scored 107 points in the next two games and began the season 8-0 before sliding a bit, starting with a 45-20 loss to Navy. The losing streak would reach three after a one-point loss to then-No. 24 Houston and a defeat to Temple. Memphis finished things off with a 63-0 win over SMU in which Lynch tossed seven touchdowns on just nine completions.
Lynch, who is considered a potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft, paced the nation’s No. 7-ranked scoring offense (42.7 points) with 3,570 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and just three interceptions on 69 percent passing. Memphis scored over 40 points in seven games and at least 50 points in five. Auburn allowed the third most passing yards in the SEC per game (232.2) and will be without defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who was recently hired to coach South Carolina. Memphis offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey will coach the bowl game as a result of Fuente being hired to coach Virginia Tech.
The last bowl win for Memphis came in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl in 2014 over BYU.
Auburn finished last in the SEC West but hopes to salvage something from this season and finish over .500. Gus Malzahn’s team did things in pairs for most of the season: they won each of their first two games by a touchdown before losing their next two, including a 45-21 loss to then-No. 13 LSU. They won their next two games over San Jose State and Kentucky but then lost the next pair to Arkansas (54-46 in four overtimes) and then-No. 19 Ole Miss. The highlight of the Auburn season came as they upset Texas A&M 26-10 in November, forcing three turnovers and rushing for 300 yards. They became bowl eligible with a win over Idaho in their second-to-last game before falling to rival Alabama 29-13 to close out the season.
Just a day away, Malzahn has yet to decide who will start under center for Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl. Jeremy Johnson accounted for seven touchdowns and six interceptions in the first three games before being pulled for Sean White, who played the bulk of the next six throwing just one touchdown and two interceptions. Johnson played the last four games and has accounted for six touchdowns to only one interception on 61.7 percent passing. Memphis’ defense ranks No. 115 of 127 FBS teams in pass defense per game (269.3 yards) but Auburn runs a balanced attack.
Auburn lost the 2015 Outback Bowl last New Year’s Day 34-31 to Wisconsin and hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2011 Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Start Time: 12:00 p.m.
TV Channel: ESPN
Betting Odds: Auburn -3.5
Prediction: Auburn likely has the more superior athletes and is playing a team without a head coach. With that said, it could be hard for an SEC team to get up for this game while Lynch likely plays his final game for Memphis. This game has the look of an upset, with Memphis doing enough to pull out a tight win, 31-30.