Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Nov 9, 2016 at 8:00 AM

• With the Tigers now bowl-eligible, we can safely begin speculating about where they might play in December. As much as American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco would like to consider his league part of a a "Power 6," the AAC's bowl partnerships don't reflect such standing. Only four of the eight affiliations place an AAC team against a Power 5 program: the Armed Forces Bowl (Big 12), St. Petersburg Bowl (ACC), Military Bowl (ACC), and Birmingham Bowl (SEC). A bid to one of the other four bowls would have Memphis facing a team from the MAC, Sun Belt, or (ahem) C-USA.

As the Tigers' improving program plays in a third straight bowl game, we have the danger of the event being anti-climactic. Would playing, say, Middle Tennessee in the Boca Raton Bowl (December 20th) be a bigger game than this week's tilt with USF? Or the regular-season finale against Houston? No and heck no. But with AAC teams ahead of Memphis in the bowl pecking order (Houston, USF, and Tulsa, to name three), a decidedly non-Power 5 bowl matchup is likely on the table. Nothing an upset of USF and/or Houston couldn't help.
click to enlarge Riley Ferguson - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Riley Ferguson

• The last time he was in the Liberty Bowl, Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller set a new Memphis single-game record with 250 receiving yards. With 924 yards for the season, the junior from Christian Brothers High School needs merely 76 to become the second Tiger to reach the 1,000-yard plateau, and 131 to break the school's 23-year-old record of 1,054, set by Isaac Bruce in 1993. Miller's 102.7 yards per game ranks third in the AAC, but his 16.2 yards-per-catch average is higher than the two receivers ahead of him (East Carolina's Zay Jones and UConn's Noel Thomas). With 2,565 yards passing, Riley Ferguson is on his way to becoming only the fourth Memphis quarterback to top 3,000 yards in a season (Danny Wimprine, Martin Hankins, Paxton Lynch). By two measures, Memphis has displayed an aerial show unlike many seen before in these parts.

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers is making a strong case for AAC Offensive Player of the Year. The junior from Miami has thrown for 1,941 yards and rushed for another 921. His 318.0 yards per game in total offense is second only to Houston's Greg Ward (356.4) in the AAC. Flowers has passed for 17 touchdowns and run for 10, while throwing only five interceptions. No surprise, then, that his Bulls enter Saturday's game at the Liberty Bowl atop the AAC in scoring (43.4 points per game) and second only to Tulsa with 502.9 yards per game. The only blemishes on USF's record are losses to Florida State (55-35) and at Temple (46-30). Memphis beat the Owls, of course, but USF handled Navy, a team that embarrassed the Tigers just three weeks ago. The Tigers have won each of the teams' three meetings since the AAC formed before the 2013 season. A victory Saturday — over a team capable of winning the league crown, and coming off a bye — would be the biggest of Mike Norvell's rookie season.
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