CSJ 2019 Cotton Bowl Classic Preview: Memphis vs. Penn State, How To Watch and Fearless Predictions

Memphis vs. Penn State (Cotton Bowl Classic)
When: Saturday, December 28th, 12:00 PM EST
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
TV/Streaming: ESPN/WatchESPN

Cotton Bowl History

The Cotton Bowl started with its first game in 1937.  The game played in the Cotton Bowl Stadium until moving to AT&T Stadium in January 2010.  The following is the history of the game since it moved to its new home.  The 2015 and 2018 games were part of the College Football Playoff.  The 2016 season (game in Jan. 2017) was the only other Cotton Bowl that featured the Group of Five highest ranked team with Western Michigan.

January 2, 2010Ole Miss21Oklahoma State7
January 7, 2011 LSU41 Texas A&M24
January 6, 2012Arkansas29 Kansas State16
January 4, 2013 Texas A&M41Oklahoma13
January 3, 2014Missouri41Oklahoma State31
January 1, 2015Michigan State42Baylor41
December 31, 2015#2 Alabama38#3 Michigan State0
January 2, 2017Wisconsin24Western Michigan16
December 29, 2017Ohio State24 USC7
December 29, 2018#2 Clemson30#3 Notre Dame3

Memphis Tigers (1st AAC West, 12-1, 7-1 AAC)

The Tigers are the sixth Group of Five team to make a New Year’s Six Bowl game.  G5 teams have gone 3-2 so far.  The only Cotton Bowl G5 match-up was after the 2016 season when Western Michigan fell to Wisconsin.

The Tigers (12-1) are 3-0 against Top 25 foes this season and have won seven in a row following a 30-28 loss to Temple on Oct. 12.  The Tigers defeated Cincinnati twice–once in the regular season finale and again in the AAC Championship Game to get the Cotton Bowl bid.  Memphis captured its first outright AAC championship and first outright conference title since 1969 (Missouri Valley).

The Ryan Silverfield coaching era begins in this game for the Tigers.  Former Coach Mike Norvell used his success with Memphis into the Florida State head job.  He was 0-3 in bowls as the Memphis head man. The Tigers are just 1-6 in its last seven bowl games and 2-7 since the 2003 win over North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl.

Memphis will bring a top-10 offense to the biggest bowl game in program history.  The Tigers have spent all season racking up yardage and points with 480.7 yards and 40.5 points per game. Memphis is one of eight teams averaging at least 40 points per game this season, with fellow AAC foes UCF and SMU the only two other non-power conference programs to have such scoring averages.

The Tiger offense starts with QB Brady White, who has passed for 3,560 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. White has been intercepted just nine times overall on the season, but he has thrown an interception in each of the last four games.  But White over the past five games has thrown for 13 touchdowns, including a five-TD performance against Houston on Nov. 16.

White’s main targets are Damonte Coxie (1,144 yards and 9 TD) and Antonio Gibson (636 yards, 8 TD).  The running game also is a big part of the Tiger offense with freshman Kenneth Gainwell (1,425 yards and 12 TD) leading the way.

The Tiger defense has been the thorn for the Tigers but the powerful offense has overcome the defensive woes.  Tulsa, SMU and ULM all were able to roll for over 500 yards against a Memphis defense that allowed 400 yards or more in six of its last nine games.  The key for the Tigers to beating Penn State will be if their defense can at least slow down their opponent enough to win this game.

Key Player: QB Brady White has completed 237-of-369 passes for 3,560 yards and 33 touchdowns in his junior season.  He will be the key to a Tigers win in this one to not throw the interceptions he has thrown in the past few games.  He got away with them in earlier games but against a strong Penn State defense, this can not happen for the Tigers to pull out the win.

Penn State Nittany Lions (2nd Big Ten East, 10-2, 7-2 Big Ten)

The Nittany Lions are making their third New Year’s Six bowl game in four seasons under head coach James Franklin.  In theses past two major bowl games, Penn State is 1-1 in these games.  Penn State topped Washington in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl and lost to USC in the 2017 Rose Bowl after winning the 2016 Big Ten Championship.

The Lions are tied for fourth nationally with 29 bowl victories and No. 6 in bowl winning percentage with a 29-18-2 post-season record (61.2) among schools with at least 20 postseason appearances.

This year, Penn State is 3-2 against Top 25 opponents.  PSU however, has lost two of their last four games (road games at Minnesota & Ohio State) after starting the season 8-0.

Led by All-American LB Micah Parsons, Penn State (14.1 ppg) ranks seventh nationally in scoring defense and boasts a stingy rushing defense allowing just 97.7 yards per game (5th FBS). Penn State has 39 sacks to average 3.25 sacks per game (10th in FBS), putting it on pace for its fifth consecutive season with 40 or more
sacks. Additionally, the Nittany Lions lead the country with 20 forced fumbles.

The offense has had its highs and lows this season and will have a change at offensive coordinator change in the mix for this game. Ricky Rahne has left Penn State to take on the head coaching duties at Old Dominion, leaving tight ends coach Tyler Bowen to take on the role of interim offensive coordinator.

Offensively, sophomore QB Sean Clifford (leg) is expected to be back from injury. He led the Nittany Lions after completing 178-of-299 passes for 2,521 yards and 22 touchdowns.  He also can do it with his legs–rushing 103 times for 374 yards and another five touchdowns. Clifford has thrown for four touchdowns in a game twice this year, the last coming against Michigan State on Oct. 26.

Courtesy of Penn State Athletics

Key Player: TE Pat Freiermuth has seven touchdowns in the red zone.  He was named to the AFCA All-America second team and The Athletic AllAmerica second team.  Overall, Freiermuth has 468 yards on the season.  Clifford has used Freiermuth and the other tight ends regularly and will be a key for the Nittany Lions will be to get all tight ends open in what looks like a big advantage for the Penn State offense.

Fearless Forecast:  The Penn State defense has proven to be a strong defense as has been seen this year against Ohio State but also has shown a tendency to be vulnarable to the pass game as was seen against Minnesota. Penn State will look to keep the time of possession in this game and keep teh potent Memphis offense on the sidelines.  This game will be close to the end and Memphis will get it share of points but Penn State is too strong to be denied in this game.  Penn State 38 Memphis 28 

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