Memphis is going to the Cotton Bowl to represent the Group of Five teams, and the Tigers’ coach is going to a Power Five school.
A day after winning the American Athletic Conference championship game, Memphis (12-1) was the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the final College Football Playoff rankings Sunday at No. 17. That announcement came only a few hours after Mike Norvell was introduced as Florida State’s new coach.
“We are moving forward, and we are just focused on myself and the staff that’s in place right now coaching this bowl game,” Tigers interim head coach Ryan Silverfield said.
The Tigers (12-1) will play Big Ten team Penn State (10-2) on Dec. 28 at AT&T Stadium, the home stadium of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
Norvell has said he wants to coach the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl after leading them to the best four-year stretch in school history, though it was unclear if that would happen. They were 38-15 and went to three AAC championship games, and now are in their first New Year’s Six game after a school-record 12 wins this season.
Before going to Tallahassee, Norvell met with players in Memphis on Sunday morning. Silverfield said players understood what was happening and were happy for Norvell, wishing him nothing but the best.
The Tigers regathered in the afternoon after Silverfield, the offensive line coach who came to Memphis with Norvell, was named the interim head coach.
“There seemed to be at least a little bit of a sense of excitement to go to the Cotton Bowl, to move in that right direction,” Silverfield said of the second team meeting of the day. “And so I think they’ll have the right mindset and the right focused needed to approach this game.”
Penn State is playing in its 50th bowl overall, and going to the Cotton Bowl for the first time in 45 years.
The Nittany Lions, who finished No. 10 in the final CFP rankings, have made it to a bowl in all six seasons under coach James Franklin, who just reached an agreement on a new contract that extended his deal through 2025.
Franklin expects the Tigers to be ready to play even while dealing with the emotions of Norvell’s departure and questions about if he will coach the game.
“Obviously this is a players’ game and they have a bunch of great players. They have a great staff,” Franklin said. “This is a little bit of the nature of our game. This time of the year, these things happen, and it’s challenging. ... It’s challenging for everybody involved. But they have won a lot of football games this year for a reason, and they will be ready and prepared to play.”
Wisconsin got the Big Ten’s spot in the Rose Bowl after finishing 8th in the CFP, a day after losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
Penn State still got to a New Year’s Six game, its third under Franklin, and is going to its first Cotton Bowl since beating Baylor 41-20 on New Year’s Day 1975, three years after they beat Texas in that bowl. There was a 13-13 tie with SMU in the 1948 Cotton Bowl appearance after going 9-0 in the regular season.
“We’re excited about the Cotton Bowl. ... I have never been to the Cotton Bowl before,” Franklin said. “I’m looking forward to being in JerryWorld, I’m looking forward to it all. I think it is going to be a tremendous opportunity.”
This will be the first meeting ever between the Tigers and the Nittany Lions, who are 29-18-2 in bowl games.
Memphis finished two spots ahead of Boise State in the final CFP rankings. Cincinnati, which lost in the AAC championship game to Memphis after also losing to the Tigers in the regular season finale, was 21st.
The Tigers are in a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season, the longest stretch in school history. It is their 12th bowl overall, but they have lost the last four.
“Look, we know the challenges that we’ve had in December at bowl games. This is a whole new year, new team, and every year is a different season,” Silverfield said. “We don’t look at the previous years, the mishaps we’ve had in the previous bowl games. We are focused on this one.”
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