Memphis, BYU meet in inaugural Miami Beach Bowl
Their paths will align in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl.
BYU (8-4) completes its up-and-down campaign on Monday afternoon against Memphis (9-3), one of the nation's surprise teams this year after finishing in a three-way tie atop the American Athletic Conference despite being picked to finish in the bottom half of that league entering the season.
The Cougars climbed to as high as No. 18 in the AP Top 25 at one point this season, then lost four straight games, then rebounded to win their last four. Memphis will finish with a winning record for the first time in seven years and is one win shy of reaching double-digits in that department for the first time since 1938.
''There has been a sense of urgency since midway through the season,'' BYU linebacker Michael Alisa said. ''We are riding a wave of momentum right now. The only way we want to finish the season is with a win. I think our attitude is more focused than last year.''
Memphis can say the same. The Tigers' entire program seems to be on a major upswing.
Whether it was the share of the league title, giving coach Justin Fuente a five-year extension as a reward or just generating a positive buzz for the first time in years, Memphis' season has already been a success by any measure.
A bowl win would only add to the storybook year.
''That's an ongoing pursuit,'' Fuente said when asked about the Tigers' quest to raise their prestige. ''We're always trying to improve the program, improve the facilities, improve our budgets in order to try and get to that level. I certainly hope and think that winning helps.''
Beating a team with a national reputation like BYU would help plenty.
Knowing that, the Cougars - who were basically locked into this game months ago - aren't taking this trip at all lightly.
''This is a big game,'' BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. ''Playing well on national television stage is big for the BYU brand and it should be fun to do it a long way from home with people who normally would not see you play. At the end of the day, nine wins is better than eight.''
Here's what to know when Memphis and BYU meet Monday:
THE SITE: Marlins Park, home of the Miami Marlins, has been transformed into a football stadium. It's technically the first bowl game in the city of Miami in nearly 16 years; the Orange Bowl, which for decades was played on the plot of land that Marlins Park now sits upon, is now contested at Sun Life Stadium in nearby Miami Gardens, Florida.
COMMON OPPONENTS: BYU and Memphis have never played, but they should have plenty of quality scouting information. The teams have three common opponents this season - both beat Connecticut and Middle Tennessee, while against Houston, BYU won and Memphis lost. Additionally, BYU lost to Central Florida this season; UCF was one of the three teams that finished tied with Memphis for first in the American.
POLL WATCH: BYU has made 240 all-time appearances in the AP poll, including four this season. Memphis has been ranked just once - No. 25, for one week in 2004. A win in this game would figure to give the Tigers a chance at cracking the final poll.
STEWART'S SAGA: It has been a wild ride for BYU quarterback Christian Stewart. He was on the scout team at BYU in 2008, left for his two-year mission in Japan, returned to football at a junior college, then went back to BYU with no plans to play again. He got talked into re-joining the team, then took over the reins of the offense midway through this season when starter Taysom Hill got hurt. Stewart has 22 touchdown passes and six interceptions in eight games.
MEMPHIS RECEIVERS: To say Memphis spreads passes around would be an understatement. The Tigers have no receiver averaging more than 40 yards a game but have nine players averaging between 25 and 40.