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No. 10 Penn State tops No. 17 Memphis in highest-scoring Cotton Bowl

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The defense was apparently optional in this year’s Cotton Bowl Classic. In the highest-scoring Cotton Bowl in the history fo the game, No. 10 Penn State put the finishing touches on its second New Years Six bowl win in three years by holding off No. 17 Memphis in a wild 53-39 victory on Saturday.

Penn State got a terrific performance out of First Team All-American linebacker Micah Parsons, who was just everywhere in the game, and the defense caused a couple of key turnovers to help counterbalance a strong showing by the Memphis offense. Brady White passed for 479 yards but failed to throw a touchdown and was picked off twice by the Nittany Lions, with one being returned for a touchdown by Garrett Taylor.

Penn State had the decided advantage on the ground with its running game. As a team, Penn State rushed for 390 yards with everyone contributing. Journey Brown led the charge with 202 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Noah Cain added 92 yards and two more touchdowns. Ricky Slade added 57 yards and Devyn Ford scored a touchdown. Sean Clifford didn’t have a great passing day but did rush for 28 yards on a day he was sacked a number of times.

Penn State and Memphis combined for 84 points to set the record for the highest-scoring Cotton Bowl. Penn State’s 53 points is also a school record for most points scored in a bowl game. The previous record was 50 points in the Holiday Bowl in 1989 against BYU.

Memphis kicker Riley Patterson turned in a record-setting performance, and not just for the Cotton Bowl. Ferguson’s six field goals is a new national college bowl game record. Memphis certainly had the ball moving on Penn State’s defense throughout the game but had to rely on the foot of Ferguson a few too many times as drives stalled.

The Cotton Bowl victory improves James Franklin to 2-1 in New Years Six bowl games in the last four seasons and evens Franklin’s bowl record at Penn State at 3-3.

Penn State will open the 2020 season at home on Sept. 5 against Kent State. Memphis will begin its 2020 season on the same day with a home game against Arkansas State.

CFT Previews: Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

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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

No. 17 Memphis secures AAC championship, likely punching ticket to Cotton Bowl

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After losing two consecutive AAC Championship Games the past two years, No. 17 Memphis (12-1, 7-1 AAC) has finally cleared the final hurdle and is celebrating a long-awaited American Athletic Conference championship. The Tigers edged No. 20 Cincinnati (10-3, 7-1 AAC) on Saturday afternoon in the AAC Championship Game, 29-24, to win the first outright conference championship in program history since winning the 1969 Missouri Valley Conference title.

This one came with plenty of late-game drama and heroics.

Midway through the fourth quarter, with Memphis leading 23-21, Cincinnati chose to try a quarterback sneak for a first down and got it. But a video replay was called to determine if Cincinnati had too many men on the field. After a lengthy review, the official ruling determined there was not enough video evidence to confirm there were too many men on the field, allowing Cincinnati to continue the drive rather than move back five yards on fourth down. The drive ended with a go-ahead field goal when the Bearcats opted to take the lead rather than try their luck on another 4th-and-1 situation. Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but the Tigers stormed right down the field on the ensuing possession.

Memphis strung together a 10-play drive that featured Antonio Gibson doing damage on the ground with his speed on the edges and a big pass from Brady White to Kenneth Gainwell to get into Cincinnati territory quickly. White’s six-yard pass to Gibson gave Memphis a 29-24 lead with 1:14 to play, but a two-point conversion failing allowed Cincinnati one last chance to take the lead. On 4th and 15 from the Memphis 26-yard line though, Desmond Ridder‘s last attempt fell incomplete and allowed Memphis to run out the remaining 26 seconds off the clock.

There are a number of moving parts to this story now. For starters, there is the New Years Six situation. Given each team’s ranking coming into the game, it was expected this would essentially be a play-in game for the Group of 5’s spot in the New Years Six, even with Boise State handling their business in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game (and Appalachian State getting its last chance to make a case earlier in the day). That idea still feels pretty solid, with an official announcement to be made Sunday afternoon by the College Football Playoff selection committee. It would be a pretty big shock if AAC CHAMPION is not heading to the Cotton Bowl to face an at-large team from a power conference (Baylor, Florida, Alabama, Penn State and more could all be options).

The other moving part here is the status of Memphis head coach Mike Norvell. Norvell is expected to be named the next head coach at Florida State. Florida State will hold a press conference tomorrow to officially introduce its next head coach. All that might be left to figure out is whether or not Norvell will pull double duty for the next few weeks to coach Memphis in the Cotton Bowl or if he leaves to take on the Florida State job on a full-time basis with an early signing period creeping up.

Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell may still have his name thrown around the rumor mill as the coaching carousel continues to spin, but he is not currently attached to any rumors regarding imminent changes.

Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts among finalists for Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award

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LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts have been named finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. The Golden Arm Foundation revealed its list of five finalists for the award for the nation’s top fourth or fifth-year quarterback on Friday. Not surprisingly, two Heisman Trophy candidates, Burrow and Hurts, were included in the list of finalists for this year’s award.

Three other quarterbacks also were named finalists; Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Utah’s Tyler Huntley, and Brady White of Memphis. The award is based on player performance on and off the field. Only players in their fourth or fifth year of college football are eligible for the award.

No player from LSU has won the Golden Arm Award, so Burrow will be looking to claim the first for the school. Hurts would join Jason White as the second player from Oklahoma to take home the award. Utah and Memphis have never had a Golden Arm Award winner, but Oregon has with Marcus Mariota.

This year’s Golden Arm Award winner will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 11 in Baltimore, MD.

Gardner Minshew of Washington State (and now in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars) won the award for the 2018 season. Other past winners include Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Deshaun Watson (Clemson), Andrew Luck (Stanford), Eli Manning (Ole Miss), Peyton Manning (Tennessee), Tommie Frazier (Nebraska), Brady Quinn (Notre Dame) and Matt Ryan (Boston College).

Turnovers by No. 23 Memphis fuel Temples upset bid in Philly; Owls up 23-14

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Three turnovers in the first quarter by No. 23 Memphis was not a part of the gameplan this afternoon in Philadelphia, but Temple has gladly taken advantage of the free possessions. The Owls own a 23-14 lead on the Tigers in a crossover division matchup in the American Athletic Conference. Temple has scored nine points off three Memphis turnovers.

Temple’s defense came out of the gates ready to set the tone by forcing an early punt on the opening drive of the game by Memphis. Jager Gardner gave Temple an early 7-0 lead with a short touchdown run on Temple’s first offensive series of the game. Three plays into the ensuing Memphis drive, Brady White was picked off by Harrison Hand around midfield. Temple was held to a field goal for a 10-0 lea. Temple was once again held to a field goal less than two minutes later when a Memphis fumble by White led to another three points off turnovers for the home team. the theme continued one more time with a third turnover in as many drives by Memphis led to yet another field goal by the Owls to go up 16-0.

Memphis reversed the trend in their favor when Damonte Coxie scored ona  14-yard pass from White to get the Tiger son the scoreboard. Memphis took over at their 33-yard line after Temple lost the football on a third down play. But Temple responded before halftime with a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by Isaiah Wright hurdling his way into the end zone.

But Memphis cut into the deficit on the ensuing drive in quick fashion. Kenneth Gainwell scored a 25-yard touchdown at the end of a 7-play drive that took just 1:13.

Points off turnovers are always important, especially for a team looking to score an upset, but Temple being held to three field goals off three Memphis turnovers may be a win for the Tigers. The 16-0 score is still a two-score game, but Temple’s defense has been playing quite well this season. Memphis still has an uphill battle on their hands in the second half as they look to remain undefeated.