There are just four games left for the University of Memphis this college football season and the Tigers are 2-6 so far. If Memphis wins the rest of their games they will become bowl eligible for the first time since 2008.
It will not be an easy task with three of the four games coming on the road including one game against the much despised Louisville Cardinals. Memphis has only notched one road victory (against UAB last season) under Coach Justin Fuente during his short tenure at the school, so winning three games away from Liberty Bowl Memporial Stadium is going to be a challenge for this inexperienced team.
However, the Tigers caught fire last year around this time, winning their final three games of the year. They have proven that they are capable of putting together a late season winning streak, and will need to replicate their performance at the end of last season if they want to go to a bowl this year.
Below are the 5 teams that stand between Memphis and bowl eligibility…
South Florida Bulls: November 16, 2013
The Bulls have two wins and are the first team on the schedule that stands between Memphis and a possible bowl birth. Coach Willie Taggert is in his first year with USF, and it has been a less than stellar campaign so far. USF started the year off with an embarrassing loss to FCS foe McNeese State and rattled off four losses to start the year before upsetting Cincinnati (the same Cincinnati team that defeated Memphis at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium).
It has been 16 days since the Bulls last game, so the extra time should help their struggling offense get ready for the Tigers defense. To call the South Florida offense bad would be an understatement, as the Bulls are the third worst offense in the FBS. South Florida is the third worst rushing team in the American Athletic Conference (ahead of just SMU and UConn) and they are also the worst passing offense in the AAC.
Look for the Tigers to capitalize on the offensive shortcomings of the Bulls to try and find a way to get a win on the road.
Louisville Cardinals: November 23, 2013
As if this rivalry needed any more fuel to the fire. These two rivals last played in 2010, a game that saw the Cardinals amass 574 yards and 56 points. The Tigers were shutout in that game, and are looking to get their first win against the hated Cardinals since 2003.
This will be by far the Tigers biggest hurdle to climb on their quest to reach bowl eligibility. Louisville is ranked No. 20 in the BCS and the Cardinals are only three points away from being in the BCS Championship discussion (before their loss to UCF they were ranked as high as NO. 6 in the AP Poll). They are tied with Alabama for the best scoring defense in the nation, and are allowing just 10.6 points per game.
Adding to an incredible defense for Louisville is an outstanding offense. Teddy Bridgewater is the leader on that side of the ball and is tenth in the nation in passing yards. If Memphis is going to make it to bowl eligibility, they will have to pull off one of the biggest upsets in school history.
Temple Owls: November 30, 2013
This is the lone Tigers home game during this four game stretch, and should Memphis do the unthinkable and beat Louisville this will be the most anticipated Tigers game of the past five years. History will be made on that Saturday if for no other reason than Memphis has never played Temple in football.
The Owls have the seventh worst defense in the nation and are allowing opponents to average a staggering 30 points per game. In addition to the Owls defensive woes, the offense is also less than impressive. They are only averaging 373.8 total yards per contest which is good for the fourth worst in the AAC.
It will be the Owls last game of the year and they will be playing for little more than pride. While this will be the Tigers last home game and they may be playing for something more, like bowl eligibility.
Connecticut Huskies: December 7, 2013
The Tigers bowl hopes may come down to the last game of the year against a winless Huskies team. With the exception of Michigan and South Florida games, all of the Huskies losses have been by double digits, including their 15 point loss to FCS opponent Towson.
UConn ranks near the bottom of the nation in almost every statistical category including rushing yards (120th nationally), total yards (119th nationally), total defense (117th nationally), and points against (105th nationally). This will be the last game of the year for both teams, with the Huskies possibly looking to avoid a winless season and Memphis possibly looking to become bowl eligible.
Memphis Tigers: the rest of the year
There is perhaps no bigger obstacle for Coach Fuente than his own team. Years of subpar performances and embarrassing losses are difficult for any program to overcome, even if some of these players were not around for some of the defeats.
Memphis is still incredibly young, and prone to mistakes as is evident by their 19 turnovers on the season, good for fourth worst in the AAC. It can be said that the Tigers are suffering from a severe case of fumblitis, a terrible disease that causes football players to cough up the football unexpectedly. Only seven teams in the nation have lost more fumbles than the Tigers this season (Memphis has 11 fumbles lost, tied with SMU for the most in the AAC).
However, with all of the Tigers short comings they have managed to be on the cusp of winning some close games. If not for a late field goal by Cody Clark and an inordinate amount of first half penalties the Tigers beat MTSU on the road. The Tigers had UCF beat before the Knights scored two touchdowns in nine seconds, and a Brandon Hayes’ pass was intercepted in the end zone with 35 seconds left. Heck if Memphis finds a way to get a touchdown or two instead of kicking five field goals against Houston they possibly win that game also.
It can be done, but Fuente has to get his players to believe that they can do something nobody believed was possible at the beginning of the year, and few believe can be done now.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.