Williams sparks Memphis turnaround

Updated: December 22, 2004, 2:53 PM ET
Associated Press

MOBILE, Ala. -- When DeAngelo Williams arrived at Memphis, the Tigers had just completed their seventh consecutive losing season and were about to endure No. 8.

"Our class wanted to change that," the prolific junior tailback said. "That's why some of us came here. We wanted to make an everlasting statement for this program, and we definitely did that."

The GMAC Bowl between Memphis and Bowling Green on Wednesday night is a chance for two once down-and-out programs to offer further evidence of impressive turnarounds -- and to showcase two of the nation's top offenses.

Memphis, which ended a 32-year bowl exile last season, is in the postseason two years in a row for the first time.

Bowling Green, meanwhile, is bowling for green -- a $750,000 payout -- back-to-back years for only the second time and first since the 1991-92 seasons. The Falcons are also trying to continue the Mid-American Conference's recent winning postseason ways. MAC teams have won eight of their last nine bowl games.

"We're starting to show you the kind of players that are in the MAC," defensive back Keon Newson said. "We've got guys that can play and we've got guys that can play with the best in the nation.

"We're going to go to this game not only to make a name for Bowling Green but to make a name for the MAC."

Williams and Bowling Green sophomore quarterback Omar Jacobs are certainly deserving of more attention.

Williams, Conference USA's co-offensive player of the year, has rushed for 1,828 yards and 21 touchdowns, ranking second nationally in rushing and third in all-purpose yards.

Jacobs is the MAC's offensive player of the year and fourth-rated passer in the nation. He's hoping the GMAC Bowl can be the same kind of showcase for him that it was for former MAC stars quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich.

"Those quarterbacks, Byron and Ben, have gone on to do well in the NFL and are big-time quarterbacks, and hopefully I'll also have a great game and be added to that list," Jacobs said.

Williams is complemented by quarterback Danny Wimprine, who has posted the school's top three passing seasons and directs the nation's 10th-rated offense.

"They're probably one of the better 1-2 punches in the nation right now," Newson said. "They're pretty explosive offensively.

"We've seen the running attack in Northern Illinois and the passing attack in Marshall. We haven't seen both really in the same game."

Williams is hoping to build much happier bowl memories after watching last year's New Orleans Bowl from the sidelines with a torn knee ligament.

"Now, to actually play in one and actually have the opportunity to win back-to-back bowl games -- that's unheard of (at Memphis)," said Williams, who has 687 yards and eight touchdowns in the past three games. "That definitely gives us that much more determination to go win."

Jacobs ranks second nationally in total offense and passing yards and his 36 touchdown passes -- against just three interceptions -- is tops.

"Their passing game is just as good as any we've faced this year," Memphis defensive end Marcus West said. "Their running game can be a threat because of the pass."

The Tigers, who won the New Orleans Bowl last season, have three straight victories since back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and Louisville. Now, they're feeling like old hands in the bowl business.

"Last year I didn't really feel any pressure to win the bowl game," said coach Tommy West, who received a big raise and one-year contract extension this week. "It was almost a sigh of relief to everyone that we were going. After 32 years, it was just good to go.

"I think there will be excitement (this time), but I don't think there will be the euphoria that there was a year ago."

The Falcons missed the MAC championship game after blowing a 20-point halftime lead against Toledo, ending a seven-game win streak.

"We just want to finish on a good note," Jacobs said. "We've got a sour taste in our mouth from the Toledo game."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press