Ahhhhh . . . Labor Day approaches, and with it, the grunts, groans, fireworks, and fight songs that can mean but one thing: college football. Youll be reading plenty on the Memphis Tigers in this space (and for a preview of the 2004 season, check out the September 2 issue of the Flyer). But what about the Tigers opponents? Consider the following a poor mans scouting report on the five squads that will visit the Liberty Bowl over the next three months.
CHATTANOOGA (Sep. 11) -- No more UTC. And no more Moccasins. For the I-AA Chattanooga Mocs, less is more . . . at least when it comes to their name. In a perfect world, Tennessees four big city schools (UT, U of M, Vanderbilt, and yes, Chattanooga) would at least play each other on a rotating basis for bragging rights in the Volunteer State. It would certainly beat another Arkansas State matchup for the Tigers (and why the heck is UNLV coming to Knoxville?).
If theres a recurrent theme to the Tigers opponents this fall, its outstanding receivers. The Mocs will be led by Alonzo Nix, a senior wideout from Laurel, Mississippi, who hauled in 90 passes last season for 1,060 yards. Hell be a nice test for the experienced U of M secondary, but this games a gimme for Memphis. The Mocs have had exactly one winning season in the last 12 years.
HOUSTON (Oct. 2) -- The Tigers and Cougars have alternated wins over the last four seasons in this series, with the visiting team winning each time. So what does Memphis do but schedule Houston for homecoming. The Cougars quarterback, Kevin Kolb, was Conference USAs Freshman of the Year last season when he threw for 3,131 yards and 25 touchdowns (the Tigers held him to 138 yards and a single score). Junior tailback Anthony Evans averaged 4.9 yards a carry last season on his way to 1,149 yards rushing (second in C-USA behind the Tigers DeAngelo Williams). This should be a fun game for fans, as the scoreboard may just tilt from all the offense. In their 13 games last year, Houston gave up at least 28 points nine times, and gave up 50 five times. Thats Danny Wimprine you see licking his chops.
TULANE (Oct. 16) -- Remember when the Green Wave went 12-0, won the C-USA championship, and the Liberty Bowl? Has 1998 ever felt so long ago? The Tigers have beaten Tulane the last two years by a collective score of 79-19. Wideout Roydell Williams was superb last year (66 catches for 1,006 yards), but hell have a new quarterback pitching him balls this fall (sophomore Nick Cannon enters the season having thrown exactly two passes). DeAngelo Williams gained a season-high 195 yards on the ground -- and scored two touchdowns -- last year in New Orleans.
LOUISVILLE (Thursday, Nov. 4) -- This will be the first of two consecutive Tiger games to air in prime time on national television. Like Chattanooga and Tulane, the Cardinals will feature a pass-catching stud in senior J.R. Russell (75 receptions for 1,213 yards in 03). Sixteen starters return from a club that went 9-4 in Bobby Petrinos first year as head coach, including quarterback Stefan LeFors who is filling the shoes of two former Louisville signal callers now found in the NFL (Chris Redman and Dave Ragone). Memphis put a 37-7 drubbing on the Cardinals last season in Louisville, only the second Tiger victory in the series last 11 games.
SOUTHERN MISS (Friday, Nov. 12) -- The defending C-USA champs will come to Memphis having won nine of the last 10 Black-and-Blue games. Over the last decade, Memphis has managed as many as 20 points against the Golden Eagles only once (in their 22-17 victory of 2001). This is the longest continually running series on the U of M schedule, the two programs having clashed every year since 1981. Head coach Jeff Bower is entering his 14th season on the Southern Miss sideline. Hes won four C-USA championships and has thrice been named C-USA Coach of the Year. By several measures, Southern Miss remains the model program for Conference USA.