Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

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The Tigers are having a good season, but they have the chance to make it historic. Between 1960 and 1963 — the program’s true golden era — the U of M won at least eight games (and lost no more than two) every season. Those were the Tigers of Dave Casinelli, John Bramlett, Harry Schuh, and Russ Vollmer, coached by Spook Murphy. Never before or since have the Tigers even approximated a four-year record of 33-5-1. And since 1964 — a half-century — the Memphis program has a total of four 8-win seasons.

The 1969 Tigers went 8-2, losing only to Ole Miss and Tennessee. In 1973 — Fred Pancoast’s second as coach — Memphis went 8-3. (It should be noted that none of these teams, including those from the early Sixties, played in a bowl game. There weren’t 35 of them way back when.) The 2003 Tigers — led by record-breaking quarterback Danny Wimprine and All-America tailback DeAngelo Williams — went 9-4 (only the fourth 9-win season in program history) and followed up with an 8-4 season in 2004. This year’s team would have to suffer an ugly collapse to fall short of eight wins. The question seems to be whether or not nine (or even 10) enters the record book.

I continue to be amazed by the Tigers’ depth at wide receiver. Eight players caught passes from Paxton Lynch against Temple . . . and Lynch only completed 21. Tailback Brandon Hayes caught two, as did tight end Alan Cross. Then there was Mose Frazier (a whopping eight catches for 110 yards), Keiwone Malone, Adrian Henderson, Tevin Jones, Phil Mayhue, and Roderick Proctor (the last two are freshmen). Somehow senior Joe Craig missed out on the aerial fun (he returned three kickoffs). For the second straight season, Memphis may not have a receiver accumulate 600 yards (Jones leads the team with 374). But the number of talented options at the disposal of Lynch and offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey is an extraordinary luxury. Imagine the pressure to catch any pass thrown your way if you’re a Memphis receiver hungry for playing time. Competition shapes champions, especially when it’s internal.

I like the Memphis-Tulane series. The two programs don’t exactly qualify as historic rivals, having met but 30 times on the gridiron. But among American Athletic Conference foes, only Cincinnati has faced Memphis more times (32). A college in Memphis and a college in New Orleans: longtime river-city rivals, if not the kind of football series that draws ESPN’s “Game Day.”

The Tigers have won their last seven games with the Green Wave. Tulane was the only FBS team Memphis beat in 2011, and in New Orleans. Tulane enters Saturday’s game with a nice win (at Houston) on its resume, but with losses to two teams Memphis has beaten (Tulsa and Cincinnati). The Green Wave averages a paltry 19.6 points per game (115th in the country), though they put up 31 against the Cougars last Saturday. The Tigers aim to secure their first in-season four-game winning streak since 2003. Nothing’s automatic in the Big Easy, but it’s always fun.

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