R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 21, 5 p.m. PST
Memphis (7-5) vs. Florida Atlantic (7-5)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Spread: Florida Atlantic -2.5
Neither team expected to be here at the start of the season. Florida Atlantic had never been to a bowl game before, are only in their fourth season of 1-A football and didn’t even have a football program until Howard Schnellenberger arrived in 1999. The team played it’s first ever game in 2001 and three years later were competing in the 1-AA playoffs. Schnellenberger, at 73 years old, is entering Paterno and Bowden territory. What he’s done with this program is amazing but not incomprehensible considering all the talent in his back yard. FAU calls Boca Raton home and is just a hop, skip and a jump from Miami, where there is plenty of speed to go around.
In Memphis there were sweeping coaching changes in the off-season. Six assistants had to be replaced from a team that finished 2-10. Finishing 7-5 with a bowl appearance has to feel like a bit of a coup for a team many thought would be in the cellar of conference USA.
Defensively, don’t look for much from this game. Memphis is No. 23 in the country in total offense while FAU quarterback Rusty Smith threw for 3,352 yards and was named Sun Belt Conference player of the year.
Smith is just a sophomore and has only completed 57 percent of his passes but he has put up over 300 yards passing in five different games this year. He managed to go without an interception in the Florida game, throwing for 290 yards. FAU doesn’t run the ball very often but is effective when they do.
Memphis QB Martin Hankins only played in 10 games this year and was intercepted 12 times. Though four of those came in one game, he threw interceptions in five of his final six games. Florida Atlantic is the wrong team to throw errant passes against. They have a quick secondary who have been capitalizing on mistakes this season. If there is some defense played it will be via the turnover but expect these defenses to be bending a lot in this one. However, Hankins should be able to move the ball, especially if running back Joseph Doss can get going. He doesn’t get many carries but showed flashes of brilliance during the season with 175 yards against Rice and 168 against UAB. If FAU doesn’t respect the run he could rip off a few big plays.
FAU had a rough schedule this year. Facing Oklahoma State, Kentucky and Florida on the road is a tough task for any team to handle much less a Sun Belt team. They were competitive at home against South Florida and beat a Big 10 team in Minnesota.
Memphis played three bowl teams, going 1-2 (won vs. Southern Miss, lost to East Carolina and UCF). The season opening loss to Ole Miss doesn’t look good considering the Rebels problems this season but it was week one. There were the bad losses to Arkansas State on the road on a short week because the game had been postponed and Middle Tennessee two weeks later. Neither of those teams finished with a record at .500.
Big plays could be the name of the game. Memphis WR Carlos Singleton has 10 TD catches and he isn’t even the leading receiver, that’s Duke Calhoun. Both are lanky sophomores, Singleton stands at 6’8 whereas Calhoun is a meager 6’4. FAU’s secondary could have trouble matching up with the height but their won’t have trouble matching the scoreboard. Sophomore WR Cortez Gent has great speed and a big play threat every time he touches the ball. He’s got nine TD’s this year and had an 11-catch outburst against Louisiana-Monroe. If you like offense, find a television and do your pre-drinking Friday night watching the New Orleans Bowl.
Florida Atlantic 45 – Memphis 42