Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 9:58 AM

• Football games should not be played in hurricane conditions. My wife and I were stuck in the Philadelphia airport last Thursday as the lingering – and quite damaging — effects of Hurricane Harvey virtually shut down Memphis International Airport. Despite the weather being too violent for airplanes to land, the game between Memphis and Louisiana-Monroe at the Liberty Bowl played on. Who can we blame for such madness? The players? (Guffaw.) Coaches? (Chuckle.) U of M athletic director Tom Bowen? (Barely 10,000 fans — devoted and somewhat careless — showed up for the event. Not the kind of number that keeps an A.D. employed.) No, we have to, as always, follow the money . . . to CBS Sports. The cable network had a time slot sold, live football being one of the few remaining bankable ventures in mass media. Sponsors and advertisers craved the programming they supported, so the Tigers and Warhawks took the field. What a sad start to a promising season for Memphis. With more than 22,000 season tickets sold, at least 12,000 devoted Tiger fans chose to stay home, tickets in hand. (The brutal irony: These fans surely watched the CBS Sports telecast at home, at least if their electricity stayed on.)
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And this brings us to the Memphis-UCF game in Orlando, moved up a day to Friday with the hope of minimizing the exposure to Hurricane Irma. As I write (Wednesday), the forecast is for thunderstorms Friday, meaning it's likely the Tigers will have a second straight "bad-weather game" to endure. Football's a brutal sport in the best of conditions. When (or if) games are played in violent weather needs to be examined more carefully, with the wellbeing of players and fans taking priority over broadcast schedules.

No American Athletic Conference foe should motivate the Tigers any more than UCF. Dating back to their time as members of Conference USA, the Tigers have lost nine games in a row to the Knights. (The only Memphis win in this series happened in 1990, when UCF was a Division I-AA program.) Most of the losses haven't been all that close. (UCF won the last meeting in 2013, 24-17 at the Liberty Bowl.) The Tigers haven't scored as many as 25 points in any of the nine losses. The Knights put 61 points on the scoreboard in their season-opening win over Florida International. Perhaps a sloppy track will turn the game into a run-first confrontation, which could benefit Doroland Dorceus, Darrell Henderson, Patrick Taylor and friends.

"We understand the importance of this game," said Memphis coach Mike Norvell at his weekly press conference on Labor Day. "This is a game that we have spent a lot of time on this summer as a staff, making sure that we had our advanced scouting and work, preparing for this opportunity."

Should the Tigers beat UCF, it will be the third straight season Memphis has started (at least) 2-0. You have to go back to the JFK administration (and latter part of the Eisenhower era) to find a similar such streak for this program: 1959-61. This would be quite an achievement for players like Dorceus, Anthony Miller, and Genard Avery who have been key members of the team for at least three seasons.

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