WHO: No. 10 Penn State (10-2) vs. No. 17 Memphis (12-1)
WHAT: The 84th Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
WHEN: December 28th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX
THE SKINNY: Penn State and Memphis will clash for the first time in the Cotton Bowl Classic in the home of the Dallas Cowboys Saturday afternoon. James Franklin is leading Penn State into his third New Year’s Six bowl game in four seasons and is looking to even his bowl record at Penn State. His opponent is the Group of Five representative this season, the American Athletic Conference champion.
Memphis will be playing its first game under new head coach Ryan Silverfield. Silverfield was given the permanent job of head coach shortly after Mike Norvell left the program to take the head coaching job at Florida State after coaching the Tigers to the AAC championship. Despite the coaching change, don’t expect Memphis to change things up now the way this offense has been rolling. With Brady White at quarterback (3,560 yards, 33 touchdowns, 9 interceptions), a pair of scoring weapons at wide receiver in Damonte Coxie (1,144 yards, 9 touchdowns) and Antonio Gibson (636 yards, 8 touchdowns) and breakout freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell (1,425 yards, 12 touchdowns), the AAC champions have the right mix of players to give Penn State’s defense some trouble. Expect Memphis to try emulating the success Minnesota and Indiana had early against the Nittany Lions with long touchdown drives early in the game.
Penn State’s defense will be the best Memphis has seen this season though, especially up front. Micah Parsons, the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and a first-team All-American, anchors the defense, and Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney lead the push along the line. If they do get off to a tough start, they will eventually get in a groove and take control of things just as they have done all season long.
Penn State’s offense has gone through some highs and lows this season, but the running game should be a strength. Journey Brown has emerged as the leading back, and Noah Cain could get back in the mix. But Penn State will need quarterback Sean Clifford to get in a rhythm as he returns to the field for the Nittany Lions for the first time since leaving the Ohio State game in the third quarter. Having reliable tight end Pat Freiermuth and speedy receiver KJ Hamler as options certainly helps and could be the difference in the game.
This Cotton Bowl has a chance to be sneaky-good, with Penn State and Memphis playing a close one going into the fourth quarter. But Penn State’s defense will find ways to make some key stops and allow the Nittany Lions to claw their way to a second New Year’s Six bowl victory in three seasons.
THE LINE: Memphis, +7
THE PICK: Penn State 34, Memphis 20