Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

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• With half the regular season now in the books, what are Paxton Lynch's chances for American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year? In two words, very good. The junior quarterback is being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy dark horse, so the AAC POY would seem to be his for the taking if his second half approximates the numbers he put up over the season's first six games. With 1,919 passing yards, Lynch is on track to shatter the Memphis record of 3,220 set by Martin Hankins in 2007. He's completed 71.4 percent of his passes and thrown 13 touchdowns with but a single interception (a deflected pass in last Saturday's win over Ole Miss). His counterpart this week at Tulsa, Dane Evans, is the only AAC quarterback to throw for more yardage, but Evans is merely fourth in the league in pass efficiency (Lynch is first). Another contender to follow is Houston quarterback Greg Ward, the AAC leader in total offense (359.2 yards per game). Evans is second in the category (353.3) and Lynch third (339.7).
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• With the capacity crowd at the Liberty Bowl last Saturday, Memphis has taken over the AAC attendance lead with an average of 49,048 per home game. 22nd-ranked Temple (6-0) is second with an average of 45,242. Over the Liberty Bowl's first half-century, the Tigers' top attendance average for an entire season is 41,175. These are numbers every bit as important to the U of M's case for a "Power Five" invitation as the win-loss record. (And yes, the two are directly related.) There's nothing Tiger fans can do on the gridiron to help Memphis secure the attention of the Big 12, but filling seats at the Liberty Bowl, helping sell the impression the U of M has become a "football school" . . . this is a significant part of the ongoing dance. It will be interesting to see how much that average figure drops (will it drop?) over the Tigers' last three home games, all against teams that don't draw the way an SEC foe does: Tulane (October 31), Navy (November 7), and SMU (November 28). Of course, if the home team is closing in on a Top-10 ranking, do the opponents even matter? They sure don't at football schools.

• Friday night will have a let-down quality to it. Tulsa is not a Top-20 program from the SEC. That said, I've come to like this series, the Golden Hurricane being one of only three AAC teams Memphis can actually call rivals, having played at least 25 times. (The Tigers own a 15-10 edge in the series.) Only Cincinnati (33 games) and Tulane (31) have been on the other sideline more often among current AAC teams. You know the game will mean a little extra to Tiger coach Justin Fuente, this being a homecoming for the Tulsa native. (The Tigers handled Tulsa last year in Memphis, 40-20.) Rest assured, points will be scored. While the Tigers are averaging 46.0 points per game, the Golden Hurricane is putting up 33.3 (and 550.5 yards of offense per game). But the Tulsa defense is allowing a whopping 525.0 yards per game, almost precisely what the Tiger offense is averaging (532.8).


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