We've finally reached what everyone looks forward to at the beginning of the season, bowl season. Though the Miami Beach Bowl is the game the BYU Cougars were contracted to play in prior to the start of the 2014 season, it is still disappointing to be playing in this bowl as opposed to a New Year's Day bowl. But if there is a silver lining to be found, it is in the fact that this is the 10th straight bowl game for BYU. Love him or hate him, Bronco Mendenhall has never failed to lead the Cougars to a bowl game. No matter who the competition is, that is still something to be proud of.
This season's opponent, the Memphis Tigers, are a much better team than everyone expected them to be. In the past four seasons, the Tigers have won a combined 10 games. That makes this season all the more surprising for Memphis as it went on to win nine games in head coach Justin Fuente's third season with the Tigers.
The Cougars are on a four-game winning streak going into this bowl game but that streak is bested by Memphis' six-game winning streak. The Cougars ended the season with a slightly more impressive victory at Cal, beating them in a shootout. While Memphis crushed UConn in Memphis 41-10.
The Tigers are averaging close to 35 points a game, compared to BYU's 36.2. While Memphis is 5th in the country in points allowed, giving up 17 points per contest, significantly better than the 25 points per game the Cougars give up. Statistics suggest that this could be a somewhat low scoring game if the Cougars are going to win but I expect the flip side will be true. It depends on which teams show up for this game. Memphis put up 63 against Austin Peay but only managed a field goal against Ole Miss. While it scored 48 at SMU, it barely put up 16 against Temple in a victory. The Cougars have had their share of high scoring games too. The Christian Stewart-led Cougars scored 42 against UNLV and at Cal. Both good signs. The Cougars have shown they can put up points but the Tigers 5th ranked scoring defense could cause some issues.
Let's take a look at some possible scenarios for Monday's game. Here are your last bold predictions for the BYU football 2014 season.
1. BYU will force two turnovers
During the six-game winning streak of the Tigers they have turned the ball over five times, just less than one a game. So two turnovers does seem a tad bit unlikely. But BYU has forced seven turnovers of its own during its four-game winning streak. The defense has looked improved since its four game losing streak. They are getting more pressure than they were before. The corners continue to be tested but they are responding well to that and forcing some turnovers. Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch has only thrown six picks this season (zero in the past six games) so he does do a pretty good job of protecting the ball. Though he did throw three picks against Houston, so it does happen. With the secondary continuing to be the weak link in this BYU defense I expect to see Memphis attack BYU through the air and be a little bit less balanced than it has been typically. If the Cougars want to prevent a shoot out then they will need to force some turnovers.
2. BYU will score 30+ points
Scoring 30 points against a Memphis defense that allows 17 points a game can be a tall task. In the past six games the Tigers have given up 80 points, 13.3 points per game. The important thing to be taken from this though is that those six teams they played scored relatively close to their season averages, 17.9 points per game. So Memphis is giving up less but it is only by less than a touchdown. This bodes well for BYU, who - as stated above - is averaging 36.2 points per game. Even if Memphis holds them a touchdown under BYU's average that's still about 30 points. I think the chances of the Cougars putting a significant amount of points on the board are very good. The offense has been very good since Christian Stewart took over. He has looked more and more comfortable as the season has progressed and this game is the perfect chance to put the cherry on the top of his senior season and career at BYU.
3. Jordan Leslie will be the Miami Beach Bowl MVP
Leslie has been a steady, consistent player the entire season, although Mitch Mathews has grabbed most of the headlines for the receiving corps. Mathews is a dynamic receiver for BYU. He has deceptive speed, great size and good hands. He will definitely be a focus for the Memphis defense and that should give Leslie a chance to step up and put up big numbers. Leslie hasn't had a chance to play in a bowl game in his college career. The only time UTEP went to a bowl game while he was with the team was when the Miners played BYU in 2010, but Leslie redshirted that season. He hasn't experienced a lot of winning during his five college years and he'll want to end his college career with a bang. He's a talented receiver who's hungry to make the most of all his opportunities. He'll relish the chance to play in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl. Look for him to take advantage of teams focusing in on Mathews and walk home with the first Miami Beach Bowl MVP.
This should be a fun game to watch. The Cougars have a strong offense that puts points on the board. Stewart has proven to be a very capable quarterback that reads the defense well, decent athleticism and has a cannon for an arm. Memphis' Lynch is a very good quarterback in his own right, he moves the ball well and doesn't make mistakes. This will be a quarterbacks duel and I expect that Stewart will end up on top. It will be a battle but Cougars will get the win in the end. Cougars win 34-30.