Miami Beach Bowl: BYU Cougars vs. Memphis Tigers




Season highlights: It seems like it was so long ago, but there was a point this season when we were talking about what the College Football Playoff selection committee would do with an undefeated Cougars team. And there were questions about whether Taysom Hill could do enough to reach New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. BYU started off 4-0, with three wins over Power 5 teams, none more impressive than a 41-7 shellacking of Texas in Week 2. Four straight wins without Hill to end the season has not been too shabby, either.

Season lowlights: Everything went south for the Cougars on the first Friday of October, as they saw Hill exit with a broken left leg that cost him his season and immediately forced the program to reset expectations for the 2014 season. Ranked 18th at the time, BYU lost that home game to Utah State 35-20, the first of four straight losses.

Player to watch: Mitch Mathews has been the best of a strong group of receivers, hauling in 64 catches for 840 yards with eight touchdowns. Perhaps more impressive is the fact Mathews did his best work after Hill went down, including a ridiculous 16-catch, 182-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 42-35 loss to Nevada on Oct. 18. He suffered a concussion in the finale but should be fine for the bowl game.

Motivation factor: Like most Group of 5 programs, every game on a national stage is a big one for a program that often gets overlooked. That is especially the case with BYU, which is an independent and therefore has no easy way into an access bowl. The Miami Beach Bowl will give the Cougars a chance to make a statement against the American Athletic Conference, of which commissioner Mike Aresco likes to call the Cougars a "quasi-member." -- Matt Fortuna



Season highlights: Coming off four straight losing seasons in which they won a total of 10 games, the Tigers broke through this year in a big way under third-year head coach Justin Fuente. They finished the season with six straight victories -- their longest in-season winning streak since 1969 -- and claimed their first conference title since 1971. Memphis announced its arrival with a 41-14 blowout of Cincinnati on Oct. 11 and clinched a share of the American Athletic crown with a 41-10 victory over UConn in the season finale. The Tigers also went toe-to-toe with UCLA in September before losing by a touchdown.

Season lowlights: Memphis outgained Houston at home on Oct. 11 but committed five turnovers in a 28-24 loss. That prevented the Tigers from running the table in the American. Memphis also managed just 104 yards against Ole Miss in a 24-3 loss on Sept. 27. But there haven't been too many disappointing moments for Fuente's team this season.

Player to watch: Quarterback Paxton Lynch has thrown for 2,725 yards and 18 touchdowns and also has run for 283 yards and 10 scores, setting a school record for most touchdowns responsible for in a season. The sophomore did not throw an interception in the Tigers' final six games.

Motivation factor: This is the Tigers' first bowl game since 2008, so it's not an experience the team is likely to take for granted. Even as American Athletic Conference champs, they will probably be looking for a little respect as a non-Power 5 team. And with Fuente's name being mentioned in connection with recent job openings, the players might want to show him just how much they value his leadership this postseason. -- Brian Bennett