• Halfway through the 2011 season, the Tigers’ record is identical to this same point a year ago: 1-5. Has progress been made despite the win-loss stagnation? Last season, the win came over Middle Tennessee, a team from the Sun Belt Conference that would finish the season 6-7. This year’s victory came over Austin Peay, a second-tier program (from the Football Championship Subdivision) with a record now of 2-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Over the first six games in 2010, Memphis lost three games by more than 30 points. This season, the Tigers have suffered the same number of blowouts. As for points scored, a season ago Memphis had accumulated 78 and allowed 235. This year: 81 for, 220 against. If this is progress, it’s not so much baby steps as tiny-turtle steps.
• East Carolina will limp into the Liberty Bowl with a record of 1-4, reeling from a 56-3 drubbing at the hands of Houston last Saturday. They’ve suffered three defeats at the hands of BCS-conference foes: South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina. Perhaps most damning, ironically, is the only win the Pirates have: a five-point squeaker in Greenville over lowly UAB. ECU has actually given up more points per game (37.4) than Memphis (36.7). Is this reason for hope Saturday?
Probably not. The Tigers have a dreadful track record of late against the Pirates. Memphis has lost the last five meetings between the schools by an average margin of 18 points. East Carolina has scored at least 30 points in all five of those losses. But ECU can’t run the ball this season (a C-USA low 69.0 yards per game). Perhaps the Tigers can fluster Pirate quarterback Dominique Davis (he’s thrown 10 interceptions). Perhaps the Memphis ground game will improve with Jerrell Rhodes back in the mix. Perhaps the cool air of an October night game . . . .
• Turnout for this Saturday’s game at the Liberty Bowl (kickoff at 6 p.m.) will be an interesting measuring stick for faith in Larry Porter’s program. Normally, after two weeks away a team can expect at least a mild increase in attendance, particularly for a game against a traditionally strong conference foe. Having drawn 18,808 (announced attendance against Austin Peay) and 16,748 (against SMU) over the last two games at the Liberty Bowl, the home team might reasonably expect a crowd of 20,000. But a week after the Tigers lost by 22 to woeful Rice? A friend in the press box recently compared my stubborn optimism (believe me, it’s thinning) to Charlie Brown taking aim at that football teed up so nicely by Lucy. How many Charlie Browns can one stadium hold?