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