TV Schedule: Wednesday, December 30, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Stadium: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Line: AUB (-2.5)
If Memphis wins this game, the Tigers will be 2-0 in the SEC West this season. In Week 7, Memphis pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season by beating Ole Miss, 37-24. Although Memphis was undefeated entering the game, Ole Miss was a heavy favorite after the Rebels upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa the month before.
But Paxton Lynch and the Tigers refused to fold before the Rebels and forced Ole Miss to leave with a loss. The Tigers remained undefeated as they entered November, but three quick losses to Navy, Houston and Temple ruined what had seemed like a dream season.
Memphis finished 9-3 but lost head coach Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech. The Tigers will be coached by offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey in the Birmingham Bowl. Can Memphis compete without Fuente, or was he the glue that held them together?
But Memphis’ coaching changes have nothing on Auburn’s quarterback switchups this season. Jeremy Johnson started the first three games of the season after mostly playing backup to Nick Marshall in the 2014 season.
The hype surrounding Johnson was the reason why Auburn was being predicted as SEC West champs. But after almost losing to Jacksonville State in Week 2 (Auburn needed OT to secure the win) and getting trounced by LSU, Gus Malzahn decided to bench Johnson in favor of redshirt freshman Sean White.
White didn’t throw a TD in his first start in Week 4 against Mississippi State, a 17-9 loss. Despite losing his first game as a starter, White kept the job until an injury kept him out of the Texas A&M game. Johnson started in his place and Auburn came away with a 26-10 win over a ranked A&M.
Quarterback struggles aren’t the only reason for Auburn’s 6-6 season, though. The Auburn defense that cracked towards the end of last season barely had time to buy into first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp’s system before he left to be the head coach at South Carolina.
Auburn will need to dip into the high-scoring offense that appeared against Arkansas (a 100 point, four OT game) to beat Memphis. And the more passes Auburn’s QB can complete, the better since Memphis’ defense is ranked 114th against the pass. Auburn’s defense will have to compete the way they did against A&M to save themselves from a losing season.
Prediction: Memphis 31, Auburn 27