2007 New Orleans Bowl - Memphis vs. FAU
Florida Atlantic RB Charles Pierre
Florida Atlantic RB Charles Pierre
Posted Dec 14, 2007

2007 New Orleans Bowl Preview - Memphis vs. Florida Atlantic

Memphis (7-5) vs. Florida Atlantic (7-5)

Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ESPN2

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Never underestimate just how huge it is for most teams to go to a bowl game. While the Floridas, Oklahomas and Michigans of the world just assume there will be an extra game at the end of the year, for programs like Florida Atlantic and Memphis, it's a chance to get the national spotlight all to themselves for a few minutes. The lone bowl game on a late December Friday night, it's the big stage for the Sun Belt conference to showcase its champion, while Conference USA could always use as much exposure as it can get.

More than anything else, this should be a really, really good game thanks to the two most important element to an early bowl game without two big-name teams: 1) the teams will try hard for a fully sixty minutes, and 2) there will be lots and lots of offense.

National Rankings
Fla Atlantic Memphis
Total Offense
45th  413.08 ypg 58th  345.17 ypg
Total Defense
85th  417.08 ypg 23rd  447.42 ypg
Scoring Offense
48th  30.08 ppg 49th  29.42 ppg
Scoring Defense
99th  33.75 ppg 91st  31.25 ppg
Run Offense
91st  126.92 ypg 76th   139.58 ypg
Run Defense
83rd  179.50 ypg 110th  209.75 ypg
Pass Offense
19th  286.17 ypg 12th  307.83 ypg
Pass Defense
74th  237.58 ypg 64th  229.75 ypg
Turnover Margin
1st  1.58  17th  0.75
Florida Atlantic
Mid Tenn W 27-14
at Okla St L 42-6
Minnesota W 42-39
at N Texas W 30-20
at Kentucky L 45-17
S Florida L 35-23
at UL Laf W 39-32 OT
UL Mon L 33-30 3OT
Ark State W 34-31
at Florida L 59-20
at FIU W 55-23
at Troy W 38-32
Ole Miss L 23-21
Jville State W 35-14
at UCF W 56-20
at Ark. St L 35-31
Marshall W 24-21
Middle Tenn L 21-7
at Rice W 38-35
at Tulane W 28-27
East Carolina L 56-40
at So Miss W 29-26
UAB W 25-9
SMU W 59-52 3OT
Position Ratings
relative to each other
FAU 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 4.5
3 RBs 2.5
3 Receivers 4
3.5 O Line 3.5
3 D Line 2.5
3 Linebackers 3
3 Secondary 2.5
2 Spec Teams 3
3.5 Coaching 3

Florida Atlantic football didn't even exist until 2001, when Howard Schnellenberger started building up the program with loads of glossed over Florida talent. Built on defense and overall quickness, the Owls moved up to D-I in 2004 and came out hot going 9-3 with a shocking 5-0 start, all on the road, including wins over Hawaii, North Texas and Middle Tennessee. It took a few years to reload and build things up to where Schnellenberger wanted them, and this year it all came together with a win over Middle Tennessee to start the year and a 38-32 victory at Troy to end the regular season and earn the Sun Belt title.

Along the way, the Owls beat Minnesota, gave South Florida a battle, and was far better than the 59-20 final score would indicate against Florida. They have one of the Sun Belt's best offenses, averaging 413 yards per game, and have the nation's best turnover margin with 33 takeaways and just 14 turnovers. Even so, the defense will give up plenty of yards and lots of points. It just so happens that Memphis cranks out plenty of yards and lots of points.

One of the hottest teams coming into the bowl season, Memphis has won five of its last six games including a triple-overtime thriller over SMU to secure the post-season spot. Living by the skin of its teeth, MU has won five games this year by three points or fewer thanks to a veteran offense that's come through time and again. Averaging 308 passing yards and 29.4 points per game, the Tigers have a high-octane attack that should be able to move the ball from anywhere on the field.

With the two offenses in place, and the two suspect defenses, this should be the wildest, most exciting game in the brief seven year history of the New Orleans Bowl. The Sun Belt is 2-4 so far including a 27-17 North Texas loss to Memphis in 2003, but Troy got the league on track with a 41-17 win over Rice last year. A Florida Atlantic win would be another huge step for the afterthought of a conference that's still trying to find national respect, while a win for Memphis would make it three bowl victories in the last five years.

Yes, this is one of the non-New Year's Day bowl games worth going out of your way for, if only to get a chance to see a highly competitive, high-octane battle. It should be fun.

Players to watch: The game will come down to the two bombs-away quarterbacks, Memphis senior Martin Hankins and rising FAU sophomore Rusty Smith.

Smith is a 6-5, 215-pound pro-style passer who took over the reins at the end of last year and showed a few glimpses of greatness and good leadership for his age. He was the man from day one going into this season, and he showed why with 27 touchdown passes and eight interceptions, with four coming in a two-game midseason span, as he kept his mistakes to a minimum, did a nice job of getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry and into the hands of his playmakers, and he came through big when the team needed him the most. His high point was a 463-yard, five touchdown performance in the win over Minnesota, but he was strong throughout the Sun Belt season and did a great job under the pressure of the Florida and Troy defenses completing 61% of his passes for 581 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against the two.

Hankins struggled a bit with interceptions, throwing 12 on the year with seven over the final six games, but he was able to overcome the problems with scores, throwing four touchdown passes in three of his last four games. While not as tall and not the prototype bomber like Smith, he has no problems pushing the ball down the field and tightening up his decision making around the goal line.

Hankins has a devastating 1-2 receiving punch in sophomores Duke Calhoun and Carlos Singleton, who have been as hot as any tandem in America over the last month of the season. The 6-4, 185-pound Calhoun is one of Conference USA's most talented receivers coming on at the end of the year with three 100-yard games in the final four including a four-catch, 159-yard game against UAB. While Calhoun was cranking out the yards, Singleton was getting into the end zone with seven scores in the final four games including a a three-touchdown day in the win over SMU. He's 6-8 and rail-thin, but he's a matchup nightmare.

Trying to shut down at least one of the Tiger stars will be FAU freshman Tavious Polo, who came up with seven interceptions in the first five games and didn't come up with another the rest of the way. Extremely quick, he's also used as a punt returner, but he's mainly a needed as the team's shutdown corner.

Florida Atlantic will win if... the ground game gets going. FAU likes to throw to win, but it can pound the ball relatively well when it has to with a decent enough attack to make Memphis worry a bit. The Tigers can't stop anyone from running the ball, and while the FAU offensive line isn't strong at blowing defensive lines off the ball, it's quick enough to get on the move and get Charles Pierre, William Rose and DiIvory Edgecomb into the open for just enough yards to take the heat off of Smith. Defensively, FAU has to force a few turnovers. Memphis is terrific at hanging on to the ball, like the Owls are, so the team that wins the turnover battle will likely win the shootout.

Memphis will win if... it plays an even game. Memphis and FAU are near mirror-images of each other. Both like the throw the ball. Both are great in pass protection. Neither can punt or generate any pass rush, but they're aggressive enough to force big mistakes. The difference is that Memphis, from top to bottom, is more talented and has more explosion. If everything else is even, and Memphis isn't giving the ball away in key spots, and as long as the pass protection holds up against the quick FAU defensive front, it should be able to simply outrun and out-home run its way to a win. The better quarterback will win the game, and Hankins is more experienced than Smith.

What will happen: It'll be a high-powered shootout with several big plays and plenty of momentum swings. Memphis will give up 400 passing yards, but will come up with a bit more offensive balance and a little more pressure into the backfield. Hankins will be stellar and mistake-free helped by the bigger, more physical Tiger receivers who'll outmuscle the smaller FAU defensive backs all game long.

Line: Florida Atlantic -2.5 ... CFN Prediction:
Memphis 38 ... Florida Atlantic 34

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