Thursday, October 15, 2015

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Thu, Oct 15, 2015 at 9:40 AM

Four of the ten biggest crowds for Tiger games at the Liberty Bowl have featured the Ole Miss Rebels. The 1991 game (a 10-0 win for Ole Miss) drew 65,483, a crowd second only to the one that saw Memphis upset Tennessee in 1996 (65,885). Other Ole Miss games in the top ten: 1987 (64,187, a Tiger win), 1989 (59,795, Rebels), and 1999 (57,523, Rebels). Saturday's crowd would need to be 55,174 to crack the stadium's top ten, and I'm convinced we might see such a gathering. Attendance will surely top 40,000, making this th
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e first time in 12 years that Memphis draws such a crowd for three consecutive home games. Sure it's an early start (11 a.m.). But it's also the first Saturday home game for the Tigers in six weeks, an absurdly long time to go without weekend tailgating, even if scrambled eggs are on the menu.

• The Tigers' next win over an SEC foe will be huge, and a significant notch on Justin Fuente's program-changing belt. Since that epic win over Peyton Manning and friends 19 years ago, the Tigers are a woeful 2-26 against the nation's top conference, the only wins coming over (you guessed it) Ole Miss in 2003 and 2004. I've never thought it healthy to measure the Memphis program against the country's most powerful league. It's virtually impossible for a Tiger coach to recruit players already on the radar of SEC teams, particularly if Nick Saban is in the room. But as the U of M continues to dress itself for a potential dance with the Big 12, every headline-grabbing win essentially counts as two. To beat Ole Miss on ABC as the country awakens to college football in mid-October? The Top-20 ranking that follows would be some well-applied make-up.

• How will the bye week and early kickoff impact the Tigers? In a sport as brutal as football, a week off never hurts a team. Doesn't mean an inferior squad will beat a team it otherwise wouldn't, but in a game between equals (or close-to-equals), consider a bye a booster. Rhythm and timing are important components of the game, but nothing like basketball or baseball, where sitting can lead to stagnation. Better yet, the Memphis coaching staff has seen Ole Miss play two games since the Tigers last took the field. Memphis may not win this week, but it won't be for lack of preparation. As for the early kickoff, I'm convinced it will impact Tiger Lane more than it will anything inside the Liberty Bowl. If you surprised a team on Saturday morning with an early kickoff time, that would be one thing. Both teams have known this will be a brunch affair for more than a week. Just expect more tasty beverages to be consumed after the game than before.

One final (bonus) thought just for this week. The last time Memphis hosted a game with a 5-0 record, the opponent (in 1961) was . . . Abilene Christian. The Tigers won in front of a homecoming crowd at Crump Stadium, 35-0. In other words, Saturday's game — against 13th-ranked Ole Miss! — is a special, once-in-this-lifetime (so far) event. Enjoy.

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