- In a battle between two teams that love to run and can’t play defense, Memphis appears to have the edge over Wake Forest.
Birmingham Bowl – Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. Memphis Tigers (-5.5)
Sat., December 22, 12:00 p.m. ET
1. Bowl season hasn’t been kind to Mike Norvell since he took over as head coach of Memphis. Over the last two years, the Tigers are 0-2 both straight up and against the spread in bowl games. Meanwhile, the Demon Deacons are 2-0 straight up (1-1 ATS) in bowl games under current head coach Dave Clawson. But there are good reasons to believe that Norvell’s luck will turn in Year 3 with the team. Over the last two seasons, the Tigers are 8-1 against the spread when facing teams that allow 31 or more points per game and 6-0 against the spread versus teams that allow 4.75 or more rushing yards per carry in that span. Wake Forest is also a lousy 2-5 both straight up and against the spread when playing with two or more weeks of rest under Clawson. While Memphis did disappoint this season, the chance for a Group of 5 team to knock off a Power 5 opponent should give the Tigers extra motivation to win convincingly.
2. When looking at potential impact players in this game, the list starts with Memphis running back Darrell Henderson. A notable snub as a Doak Walker Award candidate, Henderson rushed for 1,909 yards with 19 touchdowns for Memphis this season. The junior finished the season with three games in which he ran for at least 200 yards, and he averaged a whopping 8.9 yards per carry. Henderson also caught 19 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns, making him a threat in every facet of the game. Against a run defense that allowed 191.3 yards per game and 29 touchdowns this season, Henderson could top 200 yards once again. At the same time, Memphis quarterback Brady White—who was inconsistent in throwing for 3,125 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight picks—should actually be able to put up some big numbers here. He is prone to making mistakes, but Wake Forest had only five interceptions this season. That was tied for the seventh-worst mark in the nation, so the Demon Deacons shouldn't force White outside of his comfort zone.
3. Wake Forest does have the best receiver in this game. Wide receiver Greg Dortch caught 89 passes for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns despite being banged up for a majority of the year. The problem is that QB Jamie Newman will have trouble getting Dortch the ball. Newman is only playing because of injuries in front of him, and his play is going to be a major question mark coming into this one. Newman threw for four touchdowns with no picks against Duke in the final game of the regular season, but now that Memphis has tape on him, it’s unlikely he will enjoy that type of success again. And while Memphis gives up a lot of yards through the air, the Tigers only allowed 23 passing touchdowns on the season. That’s not a great number but, for a team that is comfortable playing in shootouts, it's still a good sign for a Memphis cover.
Pick: Memphis -5.5
Confidence level: High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)