It is the midway point of the University of Memphis football season and from a win loss stand point it looks exactly the same as the previous four seasons. This marks the fourth time in the past five years that Memphis has only one win and five losses at the midway point of their football season (in 2009 the Tigers were 2-4 after six games).
However, these losses are not the same as the others in years past. The Tigers average margin of defeat this year through six games is only 7.6 points. By contrast, the average margin of defeat through six games was 16.8 points last season, 32 points in 2011, and 32.8 in 2010.
What is more encouraging about the Tigers football program so far, is that they were tied or leading in the second half of four of their five losses (the loss to SMU is the lone exception). In fact, Memphis has been tied or held a lead in fourth quarter of three of their losses so far this season.
In years past, Memphis has left no doubt who the inferior team was on the football field, but this year they are doing more than keeping the games close and looking competitive. They actually have chances to win games, and that has to count for something.
No teams do not get credit for almost wins, but after years of football futility teams do not just start winning. However, even though the Tigers have five losses on the year, improvement can be seen all over the field for Memphis.
Individual defensive players like Martin Ifedi, Ryan Coleman, and Anthony Brown are improving weekly and are leading the way for a resurgent Memphis defense that has yet to allow a hundred yard rusher on the year.
The Tigers rank 14th nationally in total team defense allowing 327.7 total yards per game, ninth in rushing defense giving up just 99.9 yards on the ground per game, and are holding opponents to just 22.2 points per game so far this year.
The Tigers are also full of young contributors, with 10 true freshmen and 12 redshirt freshmen making significant contributions to the team.
Freshmen like starting quarterback Paxton Lynch (redshirt freshman) and running back Marquis Warford (true freshman) are being counted on by Coach Fuente to make significant contributions on the offensive side of the ball.
Lynch’s 279 yard game against UCF was good for fourth most passing yards by a freshman in school history, while Warford’s 173 rushing yards against Arkansas State is the second most rushing yards in school history by a freshman (Larry Porter holds the Memphis record with 206 rushing yards against Arkansas State in his freshman year). Warford also leads the team in yards per carry with 6.3.
So while the results appear to be the same from a win loss stand point this year when compared to previous seasons, this is a different Tigers program, and fans have several things to be optimistic about.
If the old adage holds true that you have to crawl before you walk, the Tigers have now started taking one or two steps before falling back to the ground. Assuming Coach Fuente continues to get his players to buy into the system and improve every week, the Memphis football program will be walking in no time.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.