The Memphis Tigers are going to the Cotton Bowl to represent the Group of Five teams.
Their former head coach is going to a Power Five school.
A day after winning the American Athletic Conference title game, Memphis (12-1) was the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the final College Football Playoff rankings Sunday at No. 17. That announcement came only a few hours after Mike Norvell was introduced as Florida State's new coach.
"We are moving forward, and we are just focused on myself and the staff that's in place right now coaching this bowl game," Tigers interim head coach Ryan Silverfield said.
The Tigers (12-1) will play Big Ten member Penn State (10-2) on Dec. 28 at AT&T Stadium, the home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys.
Norvell has said he wants to coach the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl after leading them to the best four-year stretch in school history, though it was unclear if that would happen, with Norvell needing to see how his schedule at Florida State would unfold.
The Tigers were 38-15 and went to three AAC championship games during his time, and now they will play in their first New Year's Six game after a school-record 12 wins this season.
Before going to Tallahassee, Norvell met with players in Memphis on Sunday morning. Silverfield said players understood what was happening and were happy for Norvell, wishing him nothing but the best.
The Tigers met again in the afternoon after Silverfield, the offensive line coach who came to Memphis with Norvell, was named the interim head coach. Silverfield might coach the Tigers in the bowl game with assistance possible from Norvell.
"There seemed to be at least a little bit of a sense of excitement to go to the Cotton Bowl, to move in that right direction," Silverfield said of the second team meeting of the day. "And so I think they'll have the right mindset and the right focused needed to approach this game."
Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch will oversee the search to replace Norvell without hiring a search firm, and during a 75-minute news conference the AD said the school would work to have a new coach named quickly. Silverfield was Norvell's deputy head coach and co-offensive coordinator in Memphis' best season yet, and he will be a candidate to replace his former boss.
This is the Tigers' first search for a football coach since 2015, when Norvell was hired to replace Justin Fuente, who went to Virginia Tech. Veatch said he will not comment on the search but wants the best fit for a program he said is clearly not in a rebuilding mode.
Silverfield helped coach Kevin Smith at Central Florida in 2007 when he led the nation with 2,567 rushing yards, and he has coached in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings when Adrian Peterson ran for 2,097 yards. The interim coach made it clear he hopes to have that tag removed once the coaching search ends, saying this is the job he wants.
This will be the first meeting between the Tigers and the Nittany Lions, who are 29-18-2 in bowl games.
Memphis finished two spots ahead of Boise State in the final CFP rankings. Cincinnati, which lost in the AAC championship game to Memphis after also losing to the Tigers in the regular-season finale, was 21st.
The Tigers are in a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season, the longest stretch in school history. It is their 12th bowl overall, but they have lost the past four.
"Look, we know the challenges that we've had in December at bowl games. This is a whole new year, new team, and every year is a different season," Silverfield said. "We don't look at the previous years, the mishaps we've had in the previous bowl games. We are focused on this one."
Penn State is going to the Cotton Bowl for the first time in 45 years.
The Nittany Lions, who finished No. 10 in the final CFP rankings, have made it to a bowl in all six seasons under coach James Franklin, who just reached an agreement on a new contract that extended his deal through 2025.
Franklin expects the Tigers to be ready to play even while dealing with the emotions of Norvell's departure and questions about if he will coach the game.
"Obviously this is a players' game, and they have a bunch of great players. They have a great staff," Franklin said. "This is a little bit of the nature of our game. This time of the year these things happen, and it's challenging. It's challenging for everybody involved. But they have won a lot of football games this year for a reason, and they will be ready and prepared to play."
Wisconsin got the Big Ten's spot in the Rose Bowl when the CFP selection committee made the Badgers eighth a day after they to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
Penn State still got to a New Year's Six game, its third under Franklin, and is going to its first Cotton Bowl since beating Baylor 41-20 on New Year's Day 1975, three years after the Nittany Lions beat Texas in that bowl. There was a 13-13 tie with SMU in the 1948 Cotton Bowl appearance after going 9-0 in the regular season.
"We're excited about the Cotton Bowl. I have never been to the Cotton Bowl before," Franklin said. "I'm looking forward to being in JerryWorld, I'm looking forward to it all. I think it is going to be a tremendous opportunity."
Norvell joins the Noles
Norvell was the first coach Florida State interviewed for its football vacancy, and though the search took school administrators around the country, they kept coming back to the same man.
"We really liked him," Florida State AD David Coburn said during Sunday's news conference to introduce Norvell. "The whole way. This guy wanted to be here. Of all the ones we talked to, it was crystal clear with Mike that he wanted this job. And he had other opportunities."
Norvell said he has idolized the Seminoles' program since he was a youngster. He said as a 12-year-old growing up in Dallas, the first piece of college memorabilia on his wall was a 1993 Florida State national championship license plate.
"This is an incredible opportunity," Norvell said. "There is a tradition of excellence here. There is a standard. Success is coming. There are great days ahead."
Norvell is the Seminoles' 11th full-time coach, replacing Willie Taggart. The 38-year-old has agreed to a six-year deal and takes over a program that struggled while he was helping build Memphis into a Group of Five power with what annually was a top-10 offense.
Florida State, six years removed from a national championship, is in need of an overhaul. The program struggled late in the Jimbo Fisher's era and went 9-12 under Taggart — including a combined 0-3 mark versus top rivals Florida and Miami before he was fired Nov. 3.
"I want to be the coach that gets us back," said Norvell, who after the news conference was introduced to Seminoles fans, along with wife Maria and 5-year-old daughter Mila, during the first half of Florida State's men's basketball game against Clemson.
Though Florida State administrators reach out to other coaches during the search, university president John Thrasher said Norvell was the only person who was offered the job.
Norvell brought a creative approach to Memphis, where he called the bulk of the team's plays even as he had a different coordinator each season.
Norvell's offense became known for its explosiveness. The Tigers ranked 10th in the nation with an average of 483.5 yards a game (196.4 rushing, 287.1 passing) before Saturday. His teams scored at least 2,147 points in less than four seasons — more than seven individual decades of Memphis football.
While Norvell lacks experience as a head coach of a Power Five team, he has been the offensive coordinator for the Pac-12's Arizona State and the co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach for the Atlantic Coast Conference's Pittsburgh.
Thrasher said Norvell's name came up two years ago when Florida State was looking to replace Fisher, who departed for Texas A&M. The search in 2017 took less than a week. Thrasher said officials wanted to "take our time" replacing Taggart, who had just one year of experience at a Power Five school, in 2017 at Oregon.
Norvell has just four years of experience as a head coach — at a Group of Five school — and his résumé is similar to Taggart's in that he's an innovative offensive mind.
Thrasher said there is one distinct difference.
Norvell "is a winner," Thrasher said. "I think the guy has proven he's a winner. He's proven he can recruit. I think he's proven he can bring a program that's down up. I think he has the passion that I look for in every single person. I believe he'll bring that to Florida State."