• Let's get right to a prediction
, not exactly my specialty. (I had Memphians needing flashlights for the solar eclipse last week.) The Tigers will enjoy their fourth consecutive winning season, not insignificant for a program that last saw such a streak during a period Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter occupied the White House (1973-77). But how many Ws can this team collect?
With no SEC team on the schedule, and no USF (favorites to win the American Athletic Conference title), Memphis has a favorable path to at least eight wins. I see four primary speed bumps on the schedule. The first comes at UCF on September 9th. No AAC rival has dominated the Tigers more than the Knights, who won nine consecutive meetings between 2005 and 2013 (when the teams last played). The game will be in Orlando, only steepening the Tigers' challenge. Then There's UCLA at the Liberty Bowl the following week (the only Power Five team on the U of M schedule). Navy comes to town with its vexing triple option on October 14th. Then the Tigers travel to Tulsa on November 3rd to face a team that beat them handily (59-30) last year in Memphis. Should the Tigers take two of these four games, I see a 9-3 regular season. If they win only one of them, more likely 8-4. (There's bound to be a "trap game" among those the Tigers will be favored to win.)
• The Tigers could chip away, if only marginally, at the SEC's headline dominance in the Mid-South
. Among the four programs that have large followings in this corner of SEC Country — Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Tennessee — only one received any votes in the AP Top 25, and UT is at number 25. (I'm excluding Alabama in this consideration, as the Crimson Tide is a category of its own.) Ironically, Memphis doesn't play any of the "big four," so misses a chance to steal a headline the old-fashioned way. But with Riley Ferguson, Anthony Miller, Doroland Dorceus, and friends sharing end-zone hugs on a regular basis, look for Memphis to capture a few new eyes in 2017. Maybe even a few in orange (or maroon) ball caps.
• My apologies in advance for missing Thursday night's opener.
It takes a major event to keep me from the Liberty Bowl on game day, particularly the start of such a promising season. But I'm delivering my firstborn daughter to her own college campus on Wednesday. As I track the Tigers through the 2017 campaign, I'll also have an eye on the Wesleyan Cardinals in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). Attending college football games is a good way to stay young inside. Raising a bright and talented daughter and checking her into her dorm room is a good way to remember the college experience is a marker on our personal timelines. So keep my seat in the press box warm for the UCLA game. And please excuse my absence this week.