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VOL. 129 | NO. 240 | Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Tigers wrap stellar season with Miami Beach Bowl bid

By Don Wade

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“Miami here we come!!!” That was quarterback Paxton Lynch’s tweet, spiced up with sun and palm tree icons.

University of Memphis wide receiver Drew Bishop (88) and wide receiver Joe Craig (2) celebrate a touchdown during the 48-10 win at SMU in October. The Tigers are looking for their 10th win in the Miami Beach Bowl.

(Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

It summed up what has been a glorious football season for the University of Memphis: a 9-3 record, a 7-1 mark in the American Athletic Conference and the program’s first share of a league title in 40 years. So the Tigers are headed to the first-ever Miami Beach Bowl for a Dec. 22 game with BYU.

No fuss, no muss, no political subplots.

“We have a special group of kids who have worked extremely hard for what they have accomplished this year,” said third-year coach Justin Fuente, who this week also was announced as one of eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. “They have adhered to the values of selflessness, teamwork and playing together.

“This bowl invitation is a reward for the season they have had.”

Same for Fuente being a finalist for Coach of the Year. To understand how big of a deal it is, consider some of the company he’s keeping: Alabama’s Nick Saban, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, and Fuente’s old boss, Gary Patterson, at TCU. The other finalists: Baylor’s Art Briles, Oregon’s Mark Helfrich and Boise State’s Bryan Harsin.

The coaches from all the schools in the first College Football Playoff made the list. And probably no one would quibble with that. But the four teams in the playoff and the order in which the 12-member College Football Playoff committee seeded them is another story.

Alabama received the top seed and will play No. 4 seed Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Oregon is the No. 2 seed and will play No. 3 seed and undefeated Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Both games will be played New Year’s Day with the winners meeting Jan. 12.

Pretty much everyone agreed that Alabama, Florida State and Oregon belonged, though there was room to debate the seeding. The controversy arose when two Big 12 teams in Baylor and TCU finished fifth and sixth in the committee’s final rankings just a week after TCU had been third. The Big 12 clearly was hurt by the lack of a championship game, and the committee apparently didn’t want to reward Baylor for beating TCU head-to-head.

Briles had sharp criticism for Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby because the league wouldn’t declare Baylor its champion despite the conference credo of “One True Champion.” And Jeff Long, who heads the playoff committee, was forced to play politician.

Meantime, there was some last-minute scrambling with the bowl assignments for SEC teams. Initially, Tennessee appeared to be coming to Memphis to play in the Dec. 29 AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Instead, the Liberty Bowl gets Texas A&M vs. West Virginia, while UT will play Iowa in the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck predicted a significant Mountaineer presence in Memphis for the game: “Historically, we have traveled pretty well.”

Tennessee had to win its last game of the season, at Vanderbilt, to get to 6-6 and reach bowl eligibility. Second-year coach Butch Jones, who has been lauded for strong recruiting classes, likes playing a bowl game in Florida.

“It is of great significance,” Jones said. “Right now on our active roster we have 13 players from the state of Florida. It’s a big recruiting area for us.”

Ole Miss (9-3) will play TCU (11-1) in the Dec. 31 Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Mississippi State (10-2) will play Georgia Tech (10-3) in the Dec. 31 Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla.

“We’re gonna party like it’s 1941 down there,” Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said, referring to the last time MSU played in the Orange Bowl.

Arkansas (6-6) will meet rival Texas (6-6) in the Texas Bowl in Houston on Dec. 29. Even before Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks learned their bowl assignment, the Arkansas coach was hoping.

“I’d love to play Texas in Texas,” Bielema said.

As for Memphis, the Tigers would have been happy to play in any bowl anywhere.

That said, not sure what Twitter icons Paxton Lynch could have used had the Tigers been sent to the Birmingham Bowl.

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