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Birmingham Bowl organizers see Auburn and Memphis showdown as 'dream matchup'

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn and Memphis play on Dec. 30 at Legion in the Birmingham Bowl.
Auburn and Memphis play on Dec. 30 at Legion in the Birmingham Bowl.

Everything fell into place for the Birmingham Bowl organizing committee.

The bowl is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Dec. 30 with a matchup between Auburn and Memphis. It’s the first time two teams within a four-hour drive are playing each other in the postseason game at Legion Field.

“It’s kind of a dream matchup,” Birmingham Bowl executive director Mark Meadows said.

Meadows and the committee were all smiles at the press conference previewing the event Thursday at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Coach Gus Malzahn was delayed nearly an hour when his plane had a mechanical issue on the runway, but the late start did nothing to diminish the committee’s enthusiasm in introducing both coaches.

Meadows praised Auburn as a traditional power in the country’s top conference while pointing to Memphis as a program on the rise.

“This has potential to be one of our best,” Meadows said.

The presence of Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch only adds to the game’s appeal. The 6-foot-7 junior is generating buzz as top draft prospect if he leaves school early.

“It’s going to be a matchup people want to come out and watch,” Meadows said.

Auburn fans have already demonstrated their interest in the game with their wallets.

The university announced Wednesday it sold out its initial allotment of 8,000 tickets. It received an additional 2,000-plus seats to sell and those were gone less than 24 hours later.

Fans can still purchase tickets through the Birmingham Bowl’s official website, but the “brisk” early ticket sales has the organizing community optimistic about where the final number will end up.

“I think by midweek next week we will have an idea what kind of crowd we’ll have,” Meadows said.

The Birmingham Bowl attendance record was set in 2013 with 55,099 fans watching Ole Miss beat Pittsburgh 38-17. The game featuring a Rebels team a similar driving distance from Birmingham as Auburn and Memphis smashed the previous mark of 42,610 fans set in 2010.

“We certainly expect a nice crowd,” Meadows said with a smile.

One concern for Birmingham businesses in having two local teams compete in the game is that fans wouldn’t take advantage of local restaurants and hotels, but Meadows doesn’t share the concern.

“People save their money every year to go on bowl trips and we still think a good number are going to come spend time here,” Meadows said. “I hope people spend a night or two in Birmingham and get to know our city if they haven’t been here in a long time.”

The game has generated a $108 million economic impact in the area.

Past Attendance (Record in bold)

2015 Florida 28, ECU 20 – 30,083

2014 Vanderbilt 41, Houston 24 – 42,717

2013 Ole Miss 38, Pittsburgh 17 – 55,099

2012 SMU 28, Pittsburgh 6 – 29,138

2011 Pittsburgh 27, Kentucky 10 – 41,207

2010 UConn 20, South Carolina 7 – 42,610

2008 Rutgers 29, NC State 23 – 36,387

2007 Cincinnati 31, Southern Miss 21 – 32,959

2006 South Florida 24, East Carolina 7 – 28,527

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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