Monday afternoon’s game will tell if the Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park got lucky in getting what you want if you’re the new kid in the Bowl Season class.
You want teams with credentials. The bowl’s owner, the American Athletic Conference, sends co-champion Memphis with a six-game winning streak and 9-3 record. Brigham Young comes in 8-4, on a four-game winning streak after saving its season from a complete crash.
You want either mirror images or contrasts. The latter, they’ve got.
BYU is No.25 nationally in total offense and throws the ball downfield behind backup-turned-starting quarterback, Christian Stewart. No Cougars are nationally ranked in rushing, sacks, tackles or tackles for loss.
It’s a team of mature players, experienced in bowls (10th in a row) and life (almost half are married and have gone on two-year missions of service). The experience of last year’s loss to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl led to the experience of offensive coordinator Robert Anae going off on the team before they left Provo, Utah.
“He ripped us pretty good [Wednesday] after practice,” Stewart said. “I think he wants to keep us focused on what’s most important. What he talked about was last year, the seniors who didn’t feel the game was the most important part of the trip to San Francisco. He said, ‘Seniors, it’s your game. You have to step up. You have to be the leaders. If you can do that, we’ll win this game.’”
With the Cougars advanced age comes a physical maturity.
“You’ve got a bunch of 18-year-olds running around against a bunch of older guys,” Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “It’ll be an interesting dynamic. Hopefully, we can hold up.”
Memphis, meanwhile, does things the old-fashioned way — a conference-leading running game led by Brandon Hayes’ 900 yards and 5.17 yards per carry backed with the AAC’s best turnover margin and scoring defense.
Unlike BYU’s tradition of success, this is Memphis’ first bowl game since 2008, only its seventh as a program and it’s comparatively young with 11 seniors among the 22 starters, kicker and punter.
“Each hour, each activity, each meeting is an opportunity for us to prove we’re mature and we can prepare the right way,” Fuente said.
You want a school with a national following. That, the Miami Beach Bowl got early when it signed a deal with BYU in April.
BYU is religiously followed by many members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints worldwide. BYU’s road games in the East, Midwest or South represent the rare chance to see the Cougars in person for Mormons in the area. Considering the many late Saturday night games for BYU, it’s the rare chance to see a Cougars game as it happens without worrying about sleep deprivation.
So, unlike when some faceless nonconference opponent from 1,500 miles away comes in, there’s not an attendance dip. Central Florida, which averaged 37,812 officially, drew 41,547 for its win against BYU. And, neither was a bowl game in December with everything but the game in Miami Beach.
“I think it’s a big game, specifically maybe for this year,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Any time you play well on national TV, it helps the brand. And it’s always fun to be doing it a long way from home in terms of a fan base that doesn’t get to see us play live much. I love that part — the ambassadorship that comes there.”
Monday: BYU vs. Memphis
What: Miami Beach Bowl.
Kickoff: 2 p.m.; Marlins Park.
Favorite: Memphis by 11/2.
Records: BYU 8-4 (Ind.); Memphis 9-3 (7-1 AAC).
Series: First meeting.
BYU injuries: Out — DB Craig Bills (neck); WR Nick Kurtz (foot); LB Fred Warner (back); WR Colby Pearson (collarbone); RB Jamaal Williams (knee); DB Jordan Johnson (arm); QB Taysom Hill (leg).
Memphis injuries: Out — RB Doroland Dorceus (knee).