On paper, the Cotton Bowl matchup between No. 10 Penn State and No. 17 Memphis on Saturday decidedly favors the Nittany Lions. They are a Big Ten Conference powerhouse whose two losses have come on the road by a combined 16 points to then-No. 17 Minnesota and No. 2 Ohio State.
But football games are not played on paper, so expect plenty of fireworks — and surprises — when the Nittany Lions and Tigers square off in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on the undercard of the two College Football Playoff semifinals played later in the day.
The Nittany Lions (10-2) have reached double-digit wins for the third time over the past four regular seasons, opening the season 8-0 before the losses to the Gophers and Buckeyes. Their reward is their third New Year’s Six bowl since 2016, an impressive stretch for the program.
“One of the most important things that you can do as a program is show consistency,” Penn State coach James Franklin told reporters recently.
“When you have been able to do what we’ve been able to do over that period of time, you’re part of conversations that you want to be a part of. We have very, very high expectations and standards at Penn State.”
The Penn State offense is led by Sean Clifford, who has 2,521 passing yards and 22 touchdown passes. Journey Brown leads the team with 688 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns while speedy KJ Hamler is the team’s leading receiver with 54 catches for 858 yards and eight touchdowns.
Penn State will be without offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne, who left the team to become head coach at Old Dominion earlier this month.
Memphis secured a spot in the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of 5 team in the final CFP rankings. The Tigers are 12-1 overall and in a bowl for the sixth straight season — but looking to break a four-bowl game losing streak.
If they do so, it will have to be without coach Mike Norvell, who left earlier this month for Florida State. Memphis named deputy head coach and offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield as its new head coach.
Memphis won its first outright conference title in 50 years and earned its first New Year’s Six appearance in program history. The Tigers enter the Cotton Bowl on a seven-game win streak, which includes back-to-back wins over nationally ranked Cincinnati in the regular-season finale and then the American Athletic Conference championship game eight days later.
“Our young men have worked hard to deserve this,” Silverfield told reporters.
“We’re going to continue to work hard this week so on the grand stage on Saturday, we come out and showcase what we’ve been able to accomplish. At the end of the day, this is what you want. It doesn’t matter who our opponent is, where we play, when we play. It’s always going to be about ourselves, focus on ourselves.”
Quarterback Brady White leads the Tigers’ offense with 3,560 passing yards and 33 touchdown passes. Redshirt freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell has been one of the nation’s most productive skill-position players, averaging 150.5 yards per game from scrimmage (sixth in the FBS) and totaling 1,425 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s also a receiving threat with 44 receptions for 532 yards and three TDs.
The Cotton Bowl will be the first meeting between the teams.
–Field Level Media