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Cotton Bowl Classic Staff Predictions: No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 17 Memphis

No. 10 Penn State football’s season will come to a close in Saturday’s Cotton Bowl Classic against No. 17 Memphis.

The Tigers boast a 12-1 overall record and an American Athletic Conference championship, and the Nittany Lions finished their season with a 10-2 mark. This is Memphis’ first New Year’s Six bowl appearance in program history after a landmark season. Meanwhile, James Franklin’s program now has three bids to the New Year’s Six in the past four seasons.

Here’s how our staff expects the Nittany Lions to fare against a talented Memphis squad.

Gabe Angieri (4-1): Penn State 34, Memphis 27

I expect this one to be closer than most think, as the Nittany Lions will pull this one out by a touchdown. With Sean Clifford presumably healthy, I believe the Penn State offense will get things going. Memphis is no pushover — as its 12-1 record and AAC championship is quite impressive — so I expect the Tigers to keep it close. Penn State will lead for much of the game with Memphis hanging around until the end, but the Tigers will ultimately come up short.

Andy Mollenauer (8-1): Penn State 30, Memphis 28

The Tigers look pretty dangerous, as a fluke loss to Temple remains to be the only loss on their schedule while they also boast a 3-0 record against ranked opponents. Memphis’ offense is putting up better numbers than Penn State both in passing and rushing, but with a run defense that’s giving up over 171 yards per game, James Franklin’s #LawnBoyz might have the edge.

If backs like Journey Brown and Noah Cain have big games, it could wreak havoc on the Tigers’ defense and be the difference-maker in a close game. Plus, with a run defense giving up just 97.7 rushing yards per game, Penn State will likely force a one-dimensional passing game out of Memphis’ offense, potentially opening the door to a few key turnovers.

Samuel Brungo (6-1): Penn State 34, Memphis 20

This should be a competitive game, similar to Penn State’s game against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl last season. Unlike Kentucky, however, Memphis doesn’t have a standout star up to the caliber of Benny Snell or Josh Allen.

Memphis is third in the AAC in total offense. Not bad, but I could see Penn State’s defense shutting the Tigers down. Memphis has a good running back, but in order to win this game, Penn State has to shut down Brady White and the Tigers’ passing attack. I think the Nittany Lions will show up in Arlington, and I’m looking forward to making my first trip to Texas. Happy Holidays, State by 14.

Matt DiSanto (11-1): Penn State 31, Memphis 28

Penn State’s secondary will need to be at its best to keep the Tigers at bay. Memphis quarterback Brady White has thrown for a whopping 3,560 yards, 33 touchdowns, and just nine picks so far in 2019, and he’ll likely try to keep that up and challenge the Nittany Lions’ defensive backs in order to move the ball. Yetur Gross-Matos will be suiting up in black shoes and basic blues for the final time against Memphis, and I’d expect a big game out of him and the rest of Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs. Defense aside, I’d be shocked if James Franklin & co. can’t take down this Group of Five team in the Lone Star State.

Ryen Gailey (0-0): Penn State 34, Memphis 26

I think Memphis will be able to score some points early, but Penn State’s defense will eventually catch up and the offense will put it away in the fourth quarter. Also, I fully expect this game to be played in full cowboy gear, which surely will give Penn State the edge. The Nittany Lions look good in anything, whether it be blue, white, or cowboy hats.

Will Pegler (10-2): Penn State 41, Memphis 30

Memphis is a really, really good football team. The Tigers averaged a dazzling 40.5 points per game and 480.5 yards of offense this season, thanks in large part to quarterback Brady White’s solid play. While I’m impressed by White’s numbers and Memphis’ offense as a whole, I don’t think the Tigers will be able to keep up with Penn State.

I understand that Ricky Rahne is gone, so the Nittany Lion offense may not be completely settled in, but I’m not going to bet against Sean Clifford and co. with nearly a month of rest. I expect Journey Brown to have himself a day, and I don’t think any of Memphis’ defensive backs will consistently keep up with KJ Hamler. Clifford is going to take some deep shots early and often to his favorite target.

The Tigers may put up some points after a historic season for the program, but James Franklin’s squad will come away victorious thanks to a big day for the offense.

Mikey Mandarino (10-1): Penn State 31, Memphis 21

Memphis’ passing attack will break off its fair share of big plays against Penn State’s secondary, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to win this game for a number of reasons.

First of all, Memphis’ rushing attack is fairly one-dimensional, as Brady White isn’t much of a dual-threat. That leaves Kenny Gainwell as the team’s best — and, realistically, only — option in the run game. He’ll make some plays, too, but the Nittany Lions’ front seven will eventually adjust and neutralize his talents.

Meat and potatoes are a big factor in games like these, and Penn State’s offensive front should have its way with Memphis’ subpar pass rush and run defense. On paper, Sean Clifford should have time and space to go through his progressions and make plays to some of his favorite targets — including KJ Hamler, Pat Freiermuth, and Jahan Dotson.

They say that good teams win and great teams cover, and Penn State should cover the seven-point spread fairly comfortably on Saturday.

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