Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

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The arrests of Shaun Rupert (on armed robbery charges) and Ernest Suttles (rape charges) are deeply troubling developments in an otherwise successful half-season of Tiger football. We need to let the justice system do its thing before guilt is applied to either young man, but for two defensive starters to face such serious charges in consecutive months is nowhere near the look second-year coach Mike Norvell wants to present for this program. Let's forget the football stereotypes and consider a random group of 100 men, ages 18 to 23. That's a segment of the population that will stretch legal boundaries, whether or not the individuals are under the watch of an organized body (like a football team, or a university). But this isn't a safety caught with a bag of weed in his glove compartment, or a defensive end getting into a brawl outside a fraternity house. These are felonies, with jail time in the mix should the accused be found guilty. After the upset of Navy last Saturday, Norvell emphasized the "open doors" of his program, and that he and his staff have nothing to hide. Here's hoping the misdeeds of two members of the program don't derail what could turn into a special season for Memphis. And here's hoping Norvell and university president David Rudd find a way — behind closed doors is fine — to emphasize the severity of these hits to the program's reputation. It's ugly stuff.
Mike Norvell - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Norvell

• Memphis needs to relish any and every game the Tigers play as a Top-25 team. The big win over Navy vaulted Memphis into the AP poll (barely), at number 25. Not to be found in the current poll are friendly neighbors Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, or Tennessee. No Florida. No Florida State. No Texas, for crying out loud. The best part may be how this ranking fun is actually familiar. Just two years ago, Memphis rode an 8-0 start to a ranking of 15th in the country. A 10-3 season (and bowl victory over BYU) in 2014 secured a spot in the year-end poll (25th) for coach Justin Fuente's third Memphis team. Before that, you have to go back a half-century to find the Tigers in a year-end poll (1963 UPI, 14th). And before that, only one other year-end ranking (1962 Williamson's, 17th). The ranking means the U of M program is, quite literally, gaining national attention, and from a region still impossibly heavy with SEC influence. Stars have emerged (Ferguson, Miller, Hall) and an ugly loss (at UCF) has been overcome. The 2017 Memphis Tigers have much to gain over the season's final five games. After all, unless you're Alabama, a poll is meant to be climbed.

• Navy was the frying pan. Houston's the fire. I didn't see the Tigers beating the Midshipmen without creating and capitalizing on turnovers. (They forced five and won by three points.) Now they have the chance to sweep the season's toughest two-game stretch. But road games played five days after a tight win are hardly pleasure trips. Don't expect a shootout (in modern terms) Thursday night. The Cougars are merely ninth in the AAC in scoring (27.2 points per game) and they only allow 16.2 points per game (second in the league to UCF). They will be a motivated bunch, having been obliterated (45-17) at Tulsa last Saturday. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver is an All-America candidate. Needless to say, he and his teammates remember the Tigers' narrow victory last November at the Liberty Bowl. "When you take a phenomenal player and surround him with so many other explosive athletes that can create problems with their defensive scheme . . . it leads to some sleepless nights," said Norvell at his weekly press conference Monday. The winner of Thursday's game will gain a sliver of separation in the tight AAC West. And these foes know the measure of a sliver. Their last three games have been decided by a total of nine points (two of those meetings won by Houston).

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