MIAMI — Palm trees, ocean breezes, sandy beaches. What's not to like about the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl?
Especially for Memphis, a virtual stranger to the postseason in the recent past.
"Our kids are excited, many of them have never seen the ocean before," Memphis head coach Justin Fuente said. "We have a bunch of kids from the mid-south that haven't traveled very much, and I know they'll be excited to come down and enjoy the weather, the view, and the scenery."
The Miami Beach Bowl will be played Dec. 22 at the home of the Miami Marlins and features Memphis (9-3), which won a share of the American Athletic Conference championship, and BYU (8-4).
It will be the first meeting between the teams and both are on winning steaks. Memphis has won six consecutive games, the longest since the 1969 Tigers won seven in a row.
"We played a very challenging non-conference schedule that I think prepared us for the stretch run," Fuente said.
BYU, which agreed to participate in the Miami Beach Bowl in April, has won four in a row after a midseason skid that saw the Cougars drop four straight.
"Our players describe it as a roller coaster," BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the season.
The head coaches and athletic directors for each school held a press conference at the stadium on Thursday before returning to their respective schools. Both teams are scheduled to arrive in South Florida for bowl preparations on Dec. 18.
Although both teams come into the game with similar records and a winning streak to their credit, the success of their programs in recent years has been much different. BYU has earned a bowl bid for the 10th straight season, while Memphis has just one player on the roster, wide receiver Keiwone Malone, that has played in a bowl game.
Fuente, in his third year at Memphis, has been credited for the turnaround of the program, which went 4-31 in the three seasons before he arrived.
"This has been a resurgence since coach Fuente has arrived," Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen said. "Things have changed immensely in our football program, and our athletic department in general."
BYU recovered from a season-ending injury to standout quarterback Taysom Hill against Utah State on Oct. 3 as former walk-on Christian Stewart filled in admirably, amassing 2,090 yards and 22 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
Paul Lasike, a former rugby player from New Zealand, is one of BYU's leading rushers and leaders.
"He's kind of the heart and soul of what we're about this season," Mendenhall said.
Memphis will be looking for its first 10-win season since 1938.
"For us right now, it's about finding a way to win a championship, which for us is the bowl game," Fuente said. "We won't focus on the number 10, we'll focus on the number one. Can we go 1-0 this week? That's kind of kind of what we've talked about each week for the last six weeks."
Said Mendenhall: "It could be a really nice finish, I think, for either team to finish with one more win."
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