The University of Memphis football team has come a long way this season despite their overall 2-6 record. They are playing a tougher schedule than last year, and have managed to avoid huge blowout losses unlike years past.
Since 2009 the Tigers have suffered a total of 45 defeats. Of those losses 19 of them were by more than three touchdowns. This season Memphis has managed to only lose by double digits three times and has yet to lose a game by 20 plus points.
Adding to the Tiger’s slow (but steady) improvement rate is the fact that they have avenged two of their losses from last year.
Brandon Hayes carried the load for the Tigers offense, rushing 27 times for 105 yards in the Tigers victory over the Skyhawks. While Paxton Lynch also made several key plays for Memphis, running for a touchdown just before halftime to give the Tigers a one point lead and throwing a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to make it an eight point game.
Memphis also defeated an Arkansas State team that beat them last year. The Tigers defeated the Red Wolves earlier this year by 31 points, holding them to just 74 rushing yards, 255 total yards, and 7 points, well under the Red Wolves season averages of 190 yards on the ground, 425.6 total yards, and 27.3 points.
It is no secret that the Tigers have been down the past five years, with their last winning regular season and bowl appearance coming in 2008.
However, Coach Justin Fuente has the Tigers poised to make a significant run at bowl eligibility this year.
The biggest hurdle standing between Memphis and their first bowl appearance in four seasons is the Louisville Cardinals.
Of the remaining four games left on the schedule, Louisville is the only team with a winning record (and the only team ranked in the BCS). In fact, when you exclude the hated Cardinals, the other three teams (USF, Temple, and UConn) only have three wins amongst them.
Sure three of these four games are on the road, but is it crazy to think that the Tigers might get six wins on the year and become bowl eligible? No.
While the offense has struggled mightily at certain points during this year, the defense has been nothing short of superb. On the defensive side of the ball, Memphis ranks 19th in total yards allowed and are only giving up 24.1 points per game.
Coming into their contest with UT Martin, Martin Ifedi was fifth in the nation in total sacks, and led the nation in sacks per game. He leads the way for a defense that is averaging just over 6 tackles for loss per game.
The Tigers faced plenty of high powered offensive attacks earlier this year in Arkansas State, UCF, and Houston and they held all of them under their season averages in total yards and scoring.
Again, with the exception of Louisville, their next four games are against teams who have their fair share of offensive issues, and the Tigers should be able to capitalize on this.
Temple is only averaging 22.3 points per game, while neither UConn nor USF averages more than 17 points per contest (the Huskies rank 119th in the nation in points for averaging just 16.4 points per contest while the Bulls are 120th and scoring just 15.4 points in their games).
Statistically Memphis will finish the year against three of the worst offenses in the American Athletic Conference, and should be able to win these contest with their defensive abilities.
If playing one of the Tigers biggest rivals is not enough, defeating Louisville in two weeks may be the difference in making a bowl game and not making one.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.