WHO: Memphis (9-3) vs. Auburn (6-6)
WHAT: The 10th Birmingham Bowl
WHERE: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
WHEN: Noon ET, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Here’s the stat that just about perfectly sums up each of these teams’ seasons – a Memphis win will give that particular set of Tigers as many SEC victories (two, in two tries) as Auburn won in eight.
A popular SEC and College Football Playoff championship pick, Auburn should consider itself extremely fortunate to be in the lowly Birmingham Bowl. If you can remember way back to Sept. 12, that was the day the mighty Jacksonville State Gamecocks had Auburn on the ropes in Jordan-Hare Stadium before the Tigers escaped with a 27-20 overtime victory. Without that win, Gus Malzahn and company would be watching this game from home today. (Okay, they probably wouldn’t actually watch this game, but you get the gist.)
Auburn beat Louisville in the opener and won at similarly dysfunctional Texas A&M on Nov. 7 to represent its only victories over FBS teams with winning records this fall. They rank 90th nationally in yards per play and 64th in yards per play allowed and sit at 2-9-1 against the spread this season. And still they are 2.5-point favorites as of this writing.
Memphis had the type of season that will spring its principals onward to success… at places other than Memphis. Head coach Justin Fuente already left for Virginia Tech, and Paxton Lynch is but 60 minutes of action away from becoming a first-round draft pick. This particular set of Tigers started the year 8-0, running their overall winning streak to 15 games, including a program-defining 37-24 dumping of Ole Miss on Oct. 17. They quickly fell out of CFP and AAC contention with consecutive losses to Navy, Houston and Temple, but there are worse sins to commit in 2015 than losing to Navy, Houston and Temple.
Lynch will represent the best quarterback Auburn faces this season, and the orange-and-blue Tigers weren’t great at defending the pass against the SEC’s mediocre offering of passers to begin with.
THE PREDICTION: Memphis 31, Auburn 23
Raghib Ismail had one of the greatest nicknames in football history. The former Notre Dame and NFL wideout was known as The Rocket. It wouldn’t have worked if his name didn’t sound similar to the nickname and if he played any other position besides wide receiver, but he didn’t. It was great.
When Ismail’s younger brother Qadry Ismail came on the scene at Syracuse and later in the NFL, he was known as The Missile. Makes perfect sense, right?
So as the Rocket’s son begins his own college football career one generation later, it’s only natural he gets his own nickname, right? It runs in the family at this point. Well, considering the son’s name is Raghib Ismail, Jr, his nickname is also The Rocket. And The Rocket is now a Cowboy.
Wyoming on Saturday announced Ismail’s signing. A native of Carrollton, Texas, Ismail signed with TCU out of college but later transferred to Cisco Junior College in Texas, where he caught 48 balls for 434 yards and four touchdowns.
“Rocket (Ismail) is a young man who brings great speed and athleticism to the wide receiver position,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said in a statement. “He does a lot after the catch with the ball in his hands. He catches the ball extremely well, catches it away from his body, and will bring great value to the wide receiver room.”
Wyoming also announced the addition of Ja’lani Ellison, a cornerback from Resada High School in California.
A potentially serious issue has arisen at Tennessee as starting offensive lineman Trey Smith is out indefinitely with a “medical issue.” While the nature of the issue was not disclosed, Smith will miss at least the the first portion of spring practice, but his absence could linger much longer than just spring ball.
Smith is reportedly seeking further medical evaluations. Wes Rucker of GoVols247 reported there is no timetable for Smith’s return, but VolQuest, citing sources close to Smith, reported he is expected to return in time for the 2018 season.
One of the lone bright spots in Butch Jones‘s final season, Smith, a 5-star recruit from Jackson, Tenn., became the first Tennessee true freshman to start at left tackle in over 30 years. Smith was a Day 1 starter for the Vols, starting at right guard for a season-opening win over Georgia Tech.
He led the club with 41 knockdowns on the year, including eight against Alabama.
He was a consensus Freshman All-American in 2017 and was rated by PFF College as the No. 1 offensive linemen among all freshmen and the No. 7 overall freshman in 2017.
Former Stanford and Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin was detained and questioned by authorities on Friday after a social media post contained a vague threat to a school shooting, but that wasn’t the only such incident involving a former football player and a possible school shooting to emerge on Friday.
Former Arizona State defensive back Edward “Robbie” Robinson was arrested Friday night after making “terroristic threats” against students and staff at ASU after a social media account purporting to be his said he was trying to buy a gun to “spray the stadium up.”
Here is the tweet in question.
In another post, Robinson’s account posted a screenshot of a text message exchange with someone claiming to be an Arizona State police detective saying, “You’re not in trouble. We just want to talk to you.”
ASU police notified the campus after receiving word of “threats of violence against members of the Sun Devil athletics community,” according to the Arizona Republic.
Robinson (left, No. 6) was a 3-star recruit out of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hampton, Va., who signed with the Sun Devils as part of their 2016 class. He has not been enrolled in school for more than a year, according to the Republic.
Bond for Robinson was set at $50,000, and a GoFundMe account had raised just over $1,500 toward that number at press time. However, Robinson was still tweeting as of Saturday evening.
Michigan wideout Drake Harris announced in November he’s leaving Ann Arbor for his final season of college football. On Saturday, we learned Harris is heading west. But not that far west.
Harris revealed in an Instagram post he will enroll at Western Michigan as a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately for the Broncos. “I’m happy to announce that I will be playing my last year of eligibility at Western Michigan University, while pursuing a masters degree. Excited to get working with Coach Lester and the rest of the coaching staff for a great year next season. Go Broncos,” he wrote.
Harris was one of the prized members of Brady Hoke‘s final recruiting class, but never found his footing as a Wolverine. In 25 career games, Harris caught nine passes for 60 yards.
He’ll join a receiving corps that returns intact but could use help. Western Michigan returns all eight wide receivers who caught a pass in 2017, but none of them snagged more than 30 receptions. WMU ranked 111th in completions and 116th in passing en route to a 6-6 finish in Tim Lester‘s first season as head coach.
Harris will face Syracuse in his first game as a Bronco — Aug. 31 in Kalamazoo — before returning to a familiar place for Game No. 2. Western Michigan visits the Big House on Sept. 8.