Sports » Sports Feature

The Numbers Game

Will they all add up, finally, for Univerisity of Memphis football?



Everybody's getting into the act. This 2003 U of M football season has been a numerologist's dream, something right out of Harper's magazine's famous "Index." Playing with confidence, operating with machine-like efficiency on both sides of the ball, the Tigers are keeping the stat-freaks among their fans extremely well occupied. Their third consecutive lopsided victory -- this one in the Liberty Bowl last Saturday, over East Carolina, 41-24 -- has had everybody, it seems, reaching for their calculators.

Just about every time Danny Wimprine and DeAngelo Williams touch the football, for example, another U of M record goes by the boards.The junior quarterback and sophomore running-back sensation already hold and keep breaking the team's single-season passing and rushing records, respectively. Barring injury, by the time their collegiate careers are over, "Danny and DeAngelo Do Football" may well need to be the subtitle used on the cover of the Tiger record book.

Math has become so fashionable, in fact, that the CA's Geoff Calkins, my favorite sportswriter in the world, built his entire Sunday column around thenumber "six," six being of course the bowl-eligible number of wins that the U of M has now recorded. Since everyone's getting into the act, here's my take on some other important numbers worth considering as the season heads into the home stretch:

1976 --Think Jimmy Carter getting elected president; think the Bicentennial; think (very possibly) stuff that happened before you were even born. And yes, that was when a U of M football team last went into the final month of a season having won twice as many games as it had lost. This should explain why Tiger fans who have been around that long are going slightly bonkers this week. November "games that matter" and "Tiger football" are not usually concepts that find themselves in the same sentence.

7 -- That's the number of games actually won by those 1976 Tigers (captained by current radio color-commentator Bob Rush), who lost two of their last three and finished 7-4. That's the last time a Tiger team bagged seven victories, which is what the 2003 Tigers will need to do, too, if they actually plan to go bowling.Sorry, Geoff, six may be special, but nobody will want a .500 team coming off three straight losses, despite the next number ...

38,718 -- The average Liberty Bowl announced attendance after five home games and the major reason those Conference USA-connected bowls are all rooting for Memphis to run the table.I've been saying this for years now: Nowhere in America is there a Division I football program with a non-winning tradition that gets anything close to the fan support the U of M Tigers have historically gotten. Give the Memphis faithful a regular winner, and there's no telling how big Tiger football can and will become in this town.

10.5 -- The number of offensive starters due to return for the 2004 season. Darren Garcia, who splits time at the receiver position, is the only senior departing from an offensive unit which recorded its third consecutive 40-point effort last Saturday. The mind boggles at how good these guys might get in 2004. Bring on UT!

0 -- The number of times before this season that the Tigers have had both a quarterback and a running back ranked simultaneously in the national Top Twenty in passing and rushing yardage. Wimprine is 18th in passing this week; Williams is 4th in rushing

15 -- Perhaps the most important number of all. This is how many extra practice days the NCAA allows for those teams that qualify for bowls. In practical terms, this works out to three extra weeks of practice for bowl-going teams.

Ever wonder how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in Division I football? This, I submit, is a big part of it. Go to a bowl every year and you've got over three month's worth of extra practice per player over a four-year career. That's a huge advantage when push comes to shove. Let's hope these Tigers finally get to find out just how valuable that extra practice time can be.


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