Auburn Tigers vs. Memphis Tigers, Wednesday Dec. 30, Noon ET
The Tigers are going to win this game. Of that I am certain. If you can find someone dumb enough that they will let you bet the Tigers then do it and be done with it. If only it were that easy, though. The problem, of course, is that the Tigers are also certain to lose. And with two very different teams - each facing some drama leading up to game and each having had very different seasons - it's hard to know for sure which Tigers will be which. But that uncertainty is what makes it fun.
Birmingham Bowl Betting Storylines
Memphis comes into this game after enduring some turmoil since they last played - entirely a product of their success. Head coach Justin Fuente is gone, having parlayed his impressive success at Memphis into the head coaching job at Virginia Tech. That leaves interim coach Darrell Dickey in charge. He is the offensive coordinator, but he was a head coach for eight years at North Texas, and he has endless experience at a wide range of programs, so he is as suited as anyone to run the team in the short term. He won't be the permanent coach - Mike Norvell, the offensive coordinator at Arizona State, has been hired. An interim coach in this spot can have a tough time motivating his team, but Dickey is helped by two factors - this is his fourth year with the program, so he is well known by the players, and he has already been retained as part of Norvell's staff next year. That means it is easier to trust Dickey in this spot than it would be in other situations.
Auburn, at least on paper, is dealing with some turmoil of their own. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has left to take over head coaching duties at South Carolina. We'll ignore the incredibly bizarre decision South Carolina made - this is a truly awful coaching hire. Losing a defensive coordinator heading into a game against a quarterback as good as they are facing would normally be a bad thing. In this case, though, the impact isn't as significant as it could be. Muschamp never seemed to mesh with head coach Gus Malzahn, and his season was nothing short of a total disappointment. He coached like he always had one foot out the door, and his philosophies never took hold. I don't suspect that is defense will be crushed by his absence, so he shouldn't be missed too much in the game action.
What will test the Auburn defense is not playing without Muschamp, but having to deal with Memphis QB Paxton Lynch. Lynch could be the first QB drafted this coming spring. He threw for 28 touchdowns with just three picks, and his offense averaged 510 yards per game. He threw seven touchdowns against SMU in the finale - in the first half. He is a very good quarterback. That raises two problems for Auburn. First, their defense isn't good - ranked 76th against the pass and 90th in total yards. Lynch is poised to have a strong day. If he does then Auburn could struggle to keep up - they rank 97th in total yards and 78th in points scored, and if they are forced to pass to keep up then their 108th ranked passing game is sure to let them down. Memphis and their underwhelming defense will help Auburn a bit, but quite possibly not enough.
Birmingham Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Auburn favored by 2.5 points. It has flirted with the key number of three in spots but has remained at 2.5 as I write this. Memphis has a small majority of the action on their backs, so significant movement either way is unlikely. The total sits at 62.5.
Auburn is 4-0 ATS in their last four games in December. The "under" is 5-0-1 in Auburn's last six against teams with winning records. Memphis is an impressive 18-7-2 ATS in their last 27 nonconference games but just 1-6-1 ATS in their last eight against the SEC.
Auburn vs. Memphis Birmingham Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I'm not going to get fancy in this one - I'm all over Memphis. I thought the game was a bargain when the line was posted, and nothing I have seen since has changed my mind. I like precisely nothing about Auburn right now, and I really like Lynch. Memphis will punch and punch again, and I can't imagine Auburn having an answer for all of it. Memphis offers plenty of value at this price, and I'll likely bet them on the moneyline to improve the return.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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