When the first wave of bowl matchups came up, the Montgomery Bowl chose to match Memphis and FAU together at the historic Cramton Bowl. The teams have met before, only once, in the 2007 New Orleans Bowl and if you told fans of both teams how much would change in the span of 13 years, I am not sure they would believe you.
Milestone in the Dome
FAU’s first season of football was in 2001, when they started as a FCS (1-AA at the time) independent. Three years later, they were an FBS (1-A) independent and a year after that, they were in the Sun Belt. The Owls meteoric rise was not without growing pains, however. After a 9-3 record that included wins over Hawaii and eventual Sun Belt champ, North Texas, the Owls slumped to a 7-16 record the next two years. No one expected much in 2007 for good reason.
The Owls went 7-5 and 6-1 in the Sun Belt with wins over Minnesota and defending conference champion Troy, earning them a spot in New Orleans for the New Orleans Bowl. Awaiting them was a Memphis squad in a renaissance under Tommy West.
After not reaching a bowl from 1972-2002, and only one in their entire history, the 2007 New Orleans Bowl was the Tigers 4th in the past five years. The Tigers even cracked the top-25 in 2005, with legendary running back DeAngelo Williams leading the way. Two programs on the rise would collide in the Big Easy.
Come gametime, it was all FAU as the Owls won in dominating fashion 44-27 as Rusty Smith threw for 350 yards and five touchdowns and D’Ivory Edgecomb did it all for the Owls, accumulating 203 all-purpose yards. The Owls became the youngest program to win a bowl in FBS history with the victory.
Thirteen years later, much has changed between the two, and for the better. Memphis left Conference USA for the greener pastures of the American Athletic Conference and Florida Atlantic left the Sun Belt for Conference USA.
Both schools have reached new heights of success. Memphis is not a regular face in bowl season, but in the top 25, reaching last season’s Cotton Bowl. FAU has come into their own in Conference USA, winning two titles in the last four years, and reaching three bowls after reaching none from 2009-2016.
Pre-Christmas Cramton Bowl Clash
Despite a year in which both teams may consider a down year, this matchup is still a solid one. Memphis had a strong year, despite being overshadowed by the likes of Cincinnati and Tulsa in conference. The Tigers went 7-3 led by the passing connection of Brady White, who threw for 3096 yards and 28 TDs, and Calvin Austin III who caught 60 passes for 1025 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Facing them is one of the stingiest defenses in not only the Group of Five, but in the country. The Owls defense only allowed 16.5 points per game, and only gave up more than 20 points once. While Memphis likes to throw the ball, the Owls like to keep it on the ground, averaging nearly 200 yards per game.
At the surface, this game may not seem like much as two three-loss teams come together in the cozy confines of the Cramton Bowl. Yet, the history and the contrast of styles makes this one appointment viewing in the pre-Christmas Bowl rush. Much has changed since that 2007 night in the Big Easy, but the changes in these two programs make this a must-watch.