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Cotton Bowl 2019: Memphis vs. Penn State TV Schedule, Time and Odds

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 27, 2019

Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos (99) in action against Purdue during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Barry Reeger/Associated Press

The Memphis Tigers will become the latest Group of Five team to challenge a Power Five squad in the New Year's Six Saturday, when they take on the Penn State Nittany Lions in the Cotton Bowl. 

The 12-1 Tigers have not lost since October 12 and their success allowed head coach Mike Norvell to take the Florida State Seminoles job. 

Penn State struggled a bit down the stretch, as it fell twice in Big Ten play and was knocked out of College Football Playoff contention. 

James Franklin's side is looking to reverse its recent poor form in postseason contests, after a run of one victory in its last four appearances. 

                

Cotton Bowl Information

Date: Saturday, December 28

Start Time: Noon ET 

TV: ESPN 

Odds (via Caesars): Penn State (-7); Over/Under: 60.5

         

Preview

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The most intriguing matchup at AT&T Stadium pits Memphis' freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell against Penn State's front seven.

Gainwell has 1,425 rushing yards, but he is coming off his worst performance of the campaign in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, where he produced just 44 yards. 

In his first 12 games, the first-year player totaled at least 75 yards on the ground, including a six-game streak in triple digits. 

Penn State boasts the fifth-best Football Bowl Subdivision rushing defense that allows 97.7 yards per contest. It is one of seven programs to concede under 100 in that category. 

One of its top skills is forcing fumbles, as it has 20 strips, with five different players forcing at least two. 

Defensive end Jayson Oweh and linebacker Micah Parsons are part of that collection, and they should be in the backfield on a few occasions, along with sack leaders Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney. 

If Penn State's defensive linemen get a good push early on, Gainwell may struggle and quarterback Brady White could be called on to produce most of the offensive yardage. 

The junior ranks 12th in passing yards with 3,560 and is tied for seventh in the FBS with 33 scoring passes. However, he has been a bit careless with the ball of late, throwing five of his nine interceptions in the previous four contests. 

If the Nittany Lions either take down White or force him into a few bad decisions, it could create a short field for their offense. 

The return of quarterback Sean Clifford could see Penn State striking fast in the Cotton Bowl. 

Franklin confirmed ahead of the contest that his starting signal-caller was close to 100 percent, per WJAC's Candace Martino

"We expect Sean to be 100 percent," the head coach said. "He's not full right now. He's taking most of the reps, but he's not 100 percent right now. We anticipate him being 100 percent. He's better right now than he was at the end of the year." 

Clifford's presence in the huddle should be a welcome sight after the offense struggled to find a rhythm with Will Levis at the helm in the win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. 

The sophomore does not have eye-popping numbers, but he has thrown for three scores on five occasions. 

Wide receiver K.J. Hamler is one of the best deep threats in the nation, and tight end Pat Freiermuth is a matchup nightmare in the red zone. 

If you add the running back tandem of Journey Brown and Noah Cain, you have a handful of skill-position players who can threaten a Memphis defense that allowed at least 24 points in five of the last six contests. 

One of the concerns surrounding Penn State is its recent bowl performances. The Nittany Lions can't afford to come out sluggish versus a Memphis team ready to prove its worth against a superior foe. 

The best bet of the Cotton Bowl should be the over, as both teams are capable of striking quick through their top playmakers.

If Penn State's defense challenges White on a good chunk of plays, it could be the difference-maker and allow it to pull away and possibly cover the seven-point spread. 

                   

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com