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New Orleans Bowl Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 12/15/2007

Troy was the big favorite to go back to the New Orleans Bowl but Florida Atlantic had a different plan in place as it celebrated its first Sun Belt Conference Championship and first ever bowl appearance. The Owls have been playing FCS football (formerly Division-I) for only three years so it goes to show what a job head coach Howard Schnellenberger has done in the short history of this program while also showing how much talent there is in Florida. The Owls had to win their final two games on the road.

Memphis was basically left for dead after a loss at home to Middle Tennessee to fall to 2-4 on the season. Two of the losses came against Sun Belt Conference teams while another came at Central Florida by 36 points. Head coach Tommy West was as good as gone but instead of quitting, the Tigers responded by winning five of their last six games including a bowl clinching overtime win over SMU. A preseason favorite in C-USA, Memphis will have to settle for a lower tier bowl but after its start, it will gladly take it.

Why Florida Atlantic Will Cover

The Sun Belt is the weakest conference in the nation but you can’t blame the Owls. They went out and played five teams from BCS conferences and while the only win came against 1-11 Minnesota, the other four came against bowl teams and gave them excellent experience. The Owls do have a potent offense and Memphis had one of the worst defenses in the country, finishing 100th in the nation overall. Florida Atlantic led the nation in turnover margin and there is nothing more important than possessing the ball.

As mentioned, Memphis has already lost to two different SBC teams this season and those two were middle of the pack teams. The Tigers did finish the season strong to get here but a couple plays here and there could have meant no postseason as four of those final five victories came by a field goal or less. Of all teams playing in bowl games, only Hawaii has played an easier schedule than Memphis. One win came over FBS Jacksonville St. while five other wins came against teams a combined 13-47.

Why Memphis Will Cover

While the Owls have a great offense, Memphis has an even better unit. The Tigers finished 23rd in total offense and closed the season averaging 33.7 ppg in their final six games not counting the 13 points scored in three overtimes against SMU. Memphis did a great job in turnovers as well, finishing 17th in the country in margin. Don’t expect many sacks as the Tigers allowed the 14th fewest in the nation while Florida Atlantic was 117th in the country on defense, gaining only 1.3 sacks per game.

The win over Troy was obviously the biggest this season for Florida Atlantic and other than that, there was no solid victory. A record 11 teams that are in bowl games were actually outgained in yardage this season and the Owls are one of those teams. Many teams were able to take advantage of the porous Memphis rushing defense but don’t expect the Owls to as they finished 91st in rushing offense and were outgained on the ground in all but two games this season.

Notable Trends

**Florida Atlantic is 0-7 ATS in non-conference games away from home over the last two seasons.

**Memphis is 10-2 ATS in road games when playing against a team with a winning record over the last seven years.

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