The Birmingham Bowl has never been one of the premier bowl games, but this year’s matchup between Auburn and Memphis is fascinating.
On one side, you have an Auburn team that was expected to compete for the College Football Playoff. On the other, there’s a Memphis program that won just five games from 2009 to 2011 before Justin Fuente -- who recently left for Virginia Tech -- took over as head coach.
Here are three reasons to watch Wednesday’s Birmingham Bowl.
1. The top NFL quarterback prospect is playing.
A big reason behind the resurrection of this Memphis program is quarterback Paxton Lynch. The junior has set the school’s single-season record for passing yards (3,670) and touchdowns (28), and his 28-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio is tops in the FBS. It’s no surprise that Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have the 6-foot-7, 245-pound Lynch ranked as their No. 1 quarterback in next April’s NFL draft. Assuming he leaves early, most mock drafts have Lynch going either No. 1 or No. 2 overall.
2. Which quarterback will emerge for Auburn?
Unlike Memphis, Auburn doesn’t have a potential top-five pick at quarterback. At this point, they don’t even have a quarterback on the roster that would get drafted. Many thought Jeremy Johnson would be that guy, but he was benched after throwing six interceptions in the first three games. His replacement, redshirt freshman Sean White, went just 2-3 in five starts before an injury turned the job back over to Johnson. Now, with White healthy again, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will start for Gus Malzahn and the Tigers in Wednesday's bowl game. But the position will be worth watching. Whoever plays better might have the inside track on the starting QB job in 2016.
3. Auburn returns to Legion Field.
It’s not a College Football Playoff semifinal or a New Year’s Six bowl. It’s not even a bowl game in sunny Florida. But it’s still pretty cool that Auburn will make the short trip up I-65 and play at historic Legion Field. The stadium, which hosted every Iron Bowl from 1948 to 1988, isn’t what it used to be. It is run down. The upper deck had to be torn down. Still, it’s full of memories. From “Punt Bama Punt” in 1972 to “Bo over the Top” in 1982, there have been some special moments at Legion Field for Auburn fans. The school is hoping to create another one Wednesday, playing in its first game back at the stadium since 1998.