By Tom Schad of The Commercial Appeal

Posted: Dec. 06, 2015

The University of Memphis football program had long hoped, and expected, to play in its bowl game in Birmingham if it did not qualify for a New Year’s Six bowl. And on Sunday afternoon, it got its wish.

The Tigers will face Auburn in this year’s Birmingham Bowl, which will mark their second bowl appearance in as many seasons. Kick-off is scheduled for 11 a.m. on December 30 at Historic Legion Field in Birmingham. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

“It’s a great opponent, obviously, another SEC power,” interim coach Darrell Dickey said after practice Sunday. “We’re playing in historic Legion Field, where there’s been an unbelievable amount of big-time football games played, and in a great state, where football is big. We’re going to a city where our fans, Tiger Nation, can be there. And I hope they are.”

The Birmingham Bowl was always an attractive destination for the U of M because of its proximity to Memphis and the opportunity to play a Southeastern Conference opponent. Memphis has not beaten two SEC teams in the same season since 1994.

“It’ll definitely be exciting,” Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch said. “It’s a chance for us to make our conference look good and this program to look good. We played one SEC team, Ole Miss, earlier in the year and we played pretty well. So I’m excited to see how our guys will match up against them.”

Memphis (9-3) is in the midst of its winningest two-year stretch in program history. After finishing 10-3 last season, it won its first eight games of 2015, including a 37-24 victory over the Rebels. A win over Auburn would give Memphis 10 victories in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history.

Auburn (6-6) lost four of its final six games this season and finished last in the SEC West division.

It will be just the third meeting between Auburn and Memphis. Memphis has won each of the two previous matchups: A 31-20 victory at Auburn in 1975, and a 28-27 win in Memphis the following year.

“We have a fantastic match-up featuring two teams who are just a few hours from our city,” Birmingham Bowl executive director Mark Meadows said in a statement. “We know that these fan bases will generate a lot of excitement for our 10th bowl game at historic Legion Field, and the people of Birmingham will show both sets of Tiger fans what true southern hospitality is while they are in town.”

Both teams will likely be short-staffed entering the bowl game. Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was announced as the new head coach at South Carolina on Sunday. Former Memphis coach Justin Fuente was introduced as the new coach at Virginia Tech last week, and three Memphis assistants have since joined him in Blacksburg. Offensive line coach Vance Vice is the latest to depart. Dickey said graduate assistant Mike Bangtson will coach the unit through the bowl game.

Memphis will take the next four days off because of final exams, then resume practice Friday and Saturday. Beginning Dec. 14, Dickey said the tentative plan is to practice every other day, with a few days off for Christmas before heading to Birmingham.

“We’re excited,” Dickey said. “We’re excited to be in the postseason. We’re excited to put our stuff on display and try to go 1-0 one more time. We’ve got a lot of work to do, though, between now and then.”

To purchase tickets for the Birmingham Bowl, visit GoTigersGo.com.

Team Awards Announced

Memphis held its annual football banquet Sunday night and distributed team awards.

Lynch was named the DeAngelo Williams Most Valuable Player of the Year for a second consecutive season, and seniors Alan Cross and Wynton McManis were given the “True Tigers” awards, for embodying the values of the program.

Senior wide receiver Mose Frazier received the Isaac Bruce Offensive Player of the Year award, and senior linebacker Leonard Pegues was given the John Bramlett Defensive Player of the Year award. Jake Elliott, who was in Florida for Lou Groza Award festivities Sunday night, was named the Joey Allison Special Teams Player of the Year.

Freshmen Tony Pollard, a wide receiver, and Hayden Ferrari, a linebacker, were named Glenn Jones Scout Team Players of the Year.