❚ Memphis to face Iowa State in Tigers’ AutoZone Liberty Bowl debut
TIGERS HEADED TO HOMETOWN BOWL FOR FIRST TIME
“I think all the seniors ... we thought our last game at the Liberty Bowl was going to be Senior Day against ECU. It’s a good thing to be able to play (there) again, and it adds an emotional value for us.” Gabe Kuhn Memphis offensive lineman
The Liberty Bowl — the stadium — has been terrific to the Memphis football team this year. And because of that success, it will have one more game in front of the home fans.
The AutoZone Liberty Bowl announced Sunday that the Tigers, who lost to Central Florida in Saturday’s AAC championship game in Orlando, will take on the Big 12’s Iowa State in this year’s game on Dec. 30 (11:30 a.m. CT, ABC). It’s the first time since the game’s inception in 1959 that the Tigers have played in the postseason contest.
The Tigers, who were ranked No. 18 in the latest USA TODAY coaches poll and No. 19 in the new AP poll on Sunday, finished undefeated at home this year for the first time since Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium opened in 1965.
“I think it’s awesome,” offensive lineman Gabe Kuhn said. “I think all the seniors ... we thought our last game at the Liberty Bowl was going to be Senior Day against ECU. It’s a good thing to be able to play (there) again, and it adds an emotional value for us.
“There’s a lot of history I’ve seen in my five years here. I’ve seen (the stadium) when there were 3,000 people there and I’ve seen it when there were 45,000 people there, and to see the difference, it’s awesome.’
The atmosphere should be awesome as well; the Cyclones are in a bowl game for the first time since 2012, when they lost to Tulsa in Memphis. This
year’s team finished 7-5 in coach Matt Campbell’s second season, highlighted by victories over Oklahoma and TCU, the two teams that played in the Big 12 championship game over the weekend.
“I think this (is) a football team that’s really changed the culture of our program,” Campbell said via telephone during Sunday’s announcement at The Hilton Memphis.
“We’ve got a group of 20 seniors that have never had the opportunity to play in a bowl game, and we have a young team around them . ... It’s a group I know that is extremely excited about the opportunity and I know is extremely excited to represent Iowa State University.”
Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart said he was thrilled with the chance to match the up-and-coming Cyclones with the hometown team.
“USC and UCLA have basically made their living by having an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl,” he said. “And the University of Miami is going to play in their hometown bowl, the Orange Bowl. I think it’s going to be an outstanding game.”
Sunday also marked the first time in Memphis football history that the Tigers have gone to bowl games in four straight years. Last year, Memphis lost to Western Kentucky in the Boca Raton Bowl.
“Being a Memphian, coming to the game ... it’s just exciting,” said senior Christian Johnson of Southwind.
“I remember (the Liberty Bowl) as exciting games, lots of good talent out there, and I feel like it will be great to be a part of it. All the people that supported me over the years ... it’s tremendous for it to be my last college game.”
Memphis coach Mike Norvell was not at Sunday’s press conference and unavailable to speak with reporters. An athletic department spokesperson said Norvell had a previously scheduled recruiting visit on Sunday afternoon and could not attend the bowl game announcement.
Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson answers questions during a press conference at The Hilton Memphis on Sunday. The AutoZone Liberty Bowl announced that the Tigers will take on Iowa State in this year’s game, the first time since the game’s inception in 1959 that the Tigers have played in the postseason contest.