SI.com's Cory McCartney analyzes the matchups.
Howard Schnellenberger started the Miami Hurricanes' 1980s dynasty and returned Louisville to prominence. But at Florida Atlantic, the 73-year-old coach is in a whole new territory. After helping build the program from scratch nine years ago, Schnellenberger has led the Owls to their first Sun Belt title and bowl game. FAU won four of its last six, including a come-from-behind victory over preseason conference favorite Troy. The Owls averaged 36 points a game in the second half of the season behind sophomore quarterback Rusty Smith.
FAU's biggest asset is its opportunistic defense, which leads the nation in turnover margin (+19). Linebackers Frantz Joseph (121 tackles) and Cergile Sincere (111 tackles and six forced fumbles) anchor the unit up front, while defensive backs Taheem Acevedo, Tavious Polo and Corey Small combined for 17 interceptions. Turnovers have come easy, but stopping teams hasn't. The Owls are allowing 417 yards a game (85th nationally) and are 99th in scoring defense, giving up 33.7 points per game.
The Tigers got off to a 2-4 start, putting the heat on coach Tommy West. But after quarterback Martin Hankins returned from a hip injury, Memphis won five of its last six games, averaging 34 points and 504 yards in the second half of the season. Hankins, who averaged at least 320 yards and three touchdowns during the streak, has a pair of standout sophomore wide receivers in Duke Calhoun (850 yards, five touchdowns) and 6-foot-8 red zone threat Carlos Singleton (704 yards, 10 TDs.).
Memphis took advantage of a schedule that included Jacksonville State and five other teams that were a combined 13-47 in earning a bowl bid, but no matter the opponent the defense struggled. The Tigers held only one team below 21 points and gave up more than 50 points three times. The pass defense was among the nation's worst, ranking 110th (209.7 ypg).
The Tigers haven't fared well against Sun Belt teams, losing to Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee State, but those losses came before Hankins' return. Calhoun and Singleton should be able to feast on FAU's 74th-ranked pass defense, so long as Hankins avoids any costly errors.
While so many teams have been able to feast on Memphis' porous run defense (209 ypg), the Owls, who are 91st in rushing offense, don't have the weapons to exploit it. Schnellenberger and FAU made history and appear to be a program on the rise, but Memphis' offense may be too much for the Owls.
The pick: Memphis 35, Florida Atlantic 30