5 Things You Missed At The University Of Memphis Tigers Football Spring Game

tigers helmetThe much anticipated third year under University of Memphis head football coach Justin Fuente is underway as the Tigers annual spring game ended Friday night.  Fans are expecting the program to continue to grow under Fuente after it made much needed strides the past two seasons.

Fuente inherited an ailing Tigers program two years ago, and while he has not wowed fans with his own win loss record (7-17 in two seasons), he has made the Tigers more competitive in their contests.

Last season the Tigers were mere seconds away from victory against UCF (Fiesta Bowl game winners), Cincinnati, and MTSU (a TAM team rival).  If the Tigers could have scored a touchdown instead of settling for five field goals against Houston they might have won that game too, and let us not forgot how closely they played rival Louisville on the road.

In 2013 the Tigers average margin of defeat was 12.6 points per game, which is better than the previous three years’ of 17.9 in 2012, 26.3 in 2011, and 27.5 in 2010.

However, the close losses last season were just that. Losses, which amounted to a less than stellar record of 3-9 (1-7 in the American Athletic Conference).

Memphis and Coach Fuente are looking to put last year’s near wins behind them with a fresh start in 2014.  While the Tigers have been practicing for a while in preparation for their 2014 campaign, fans got their first up close and personal look of the team Friday night at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

It was a great atmosphere.  A reported 7,400 fans showed up to cheer on the hometown Tigers.  There were the usual bouncey houses for the kids before the game, and in an interesting spring game twist a DJ was on the field managing to keep the fans energized and into the game with an array of songs and mixes.

Yet, there other sporting events going on in the great city of Memphis Friday night as well.  It was opening day at AutoZonePark for the Redbirds, the Grizzlies were fighting for a playoff spot, and Grizz did this.  So, if you were unable to make it to the game here are 5 things you missed at the University of Memphis Tigers football spring game…

1.  
The improvement of the offensive line…
Now it could be because they were facing the “younger team” as Coach Fuente called them (the gray team was comprised of second and third stringers), but the blue team, AKA the starters, did an impressive job of blocking up front.  There were a few times that Paxton Lynch was forced out of the pocket, but by in large the starting offensive line did an a good job in pass protection.  Perhaps more impressive was the job that they were able to do in the ground game, allowing Brandon Hayes and others to look stellar on the ground during the scrimmage.  Opposing defenses sacked the Tigers quarterbacks 28 times last year, a number that should decrease thanks to experience and depth up front.  In all there are five linemen on the Tigers roster with starting experience for Memphis, and all of them started three or more games in their careers.   

2.  There are several returning starters and they look more comfortable in Fuente’s system…
In addition to the three returning starters on the offensive line, Memphis brings back six more starters on the offensive side of the ball.  Defensively the Tigers return eight players to make a grand total of 17 returning starters for the Tigers.  What does that mean for Memphis and why is that such a big deal?  It is simple, the longer you have been in a system the more things become second nature and the less you have to think about what you have to do.  It becomes more of a reaction and less of a thought process.  This allows football players to play faster and more freely.  The experience gap between the older and younger players was noticeable early and often.  Everything seemed to go the blue team’s way and early on the gray team looked discombobulated.  “The younger guys really got a taste of the level you have to play at, and I think that is important going into the off season,” Fuente said after the game.  No play exhibited this confusion for the gray team more than a fumble that was caused when a player in motion in the backfield collided with the tailback on a handoff before any defender was within five yards of the two.  Coach Fuente will have to lean heavily on those who have experience this year if the Tigers are going to snap their bowl game drought.

3.  Finally the offense is playing that up tempo style…
Again, this could be because it was basically the starters versus the second and third team, but the blue team’s first offensive possession resulted in a score in just over four minutes.  With nine starters returning on offense, Memphis is deep enough, skilled enough, and understands enough about Coach Fuente’s system to be able to really push the pace of a game.  “We got a long way to go to be what we envision here offensively,” Fuente said, “but at times we flashed something that has a chance to be explosive.”   Expect the Tigers to push the tempo more this year than they have in the past seasons under Fuente.

4.  Running back will be a real strength for the Tigers this season…
With Brandon Hayes getting an extra year of eligibility and Doroland Dorceus returning as well, the Tigers bring back 1033 yards from a team that rushed for a total of 1660 last season.  Granted Hayes had nearly half of the teams total (he ran for 860 yards last season), but expect Dorceus to be a major contributor to the run game also.  After an early fumble on the first drive of the game for the gray tem, Dorceus settled down and had one of the most explosive plays of the game with a 50 plus yard touchdown run.  However, make no mistakes about it Hayes is on a different level than the rest of the running backs right now.  One man cannot bring him down and he rushed for three touchdowns during the spring game. “It is great having Brandon back,” Fuente stated after Hayes’ outstanding spring game performance.  “Not just because he is a great football player, but because he of the person he is…he is a very comforting force to have… he is a pretty intellectual football player.”  A good ground game will certainly take more pressure off of Paxton Lynch and the passing game, which will help the Tigers young signal caller.

5.  Paxton Lynch’s growth at the quarterback position…
It has been five years since the Tigers have started the same quarterback on opening day for consecutive years.  This is a trend that should end this year with Lynch.  Arkelon Hall was the last Memphis quarterback to accomplish this feat during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.  Since Hall left there has been a proverbial revolving door of quarterbacks from Taylor Reid to Jacob Karam and a slew of quarterbacks in between (anybody else remember when Cannon Smith started against Mississippi State in the season opener in 2010?).  Lynch should be the opening day starter unless something catastrophic happens, and continuity at the quarterback position will be an immense help to the Tigers.  There were several good throws by Lynch Friday night, but what is most impressing is the fact that he did not turn the ball over.  Fuente was pleased with Lynch’s performance on Friday, but understands that there is still room for his redshirt sophomore to improve. “I think he continues to get better.  We have got to get better around him… he continues to improve from and learn from his mistakes.”  Here is hoping that all of the Tigers learn from their mistakes and make the 2014 season better than the seasons of the past five years.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him  @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

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5 Events the NBA Should Add To All-Star Weekend

all starThe NBA-All Star Game is this weekend in New Orleans, and it is sure to be a festive event to say the least.  Fans will get a chance to see some of the best players in the game today let their hair down and have fun all weekend long.

Events include the annual Celebrity All-Star Game, Three-Point Contest, Rookie vs. Sophomore game, and of course the Dunk Contest.

Even though the NBA does a great job of allowing fans to witness star players in a variety of unique contests throughout the weekend, the events have become a little stale and there is a need to add something new to All-Star Weekend.  It never fails that fans begin to complain about the dunk contest as soon as the first dunk is attempted and the three point contest has lost some of its luster over the years too.

With those two hallmark competitions of the weekend failing to attract the interest that they used to back when Larry Bird was doing this and Vince Carter was doing this, Commissioner Adam Silver needs to come up with some new contests to get the fans more excited about All-Star Weekend.

If Silver manages to create some events that make the NBA-All Star Game easily the best of its kind it would aid him in creating a legacy different from all other commissioners before him.  However, creating new contests and getting the players and (more importantly) fans excited about them is easier said than done.

But do not fret Commish below is a list of events the NBA should add to All-Star Weekend…

1. Gotcha
Also affectionately called “Knock Out”, “Gotcha” is a game that most people who have ever attended a basketball camp have played (if you have never played Gotcha click here for the rules).  It is a faced paced exciting game when mere mortals play, imagine the excitement NBA All-Stars will bring to the game. Here is how it would work, ten players from different NBA teams would be selected to compete in this contest with the winner getting a new car, plane, or whatever it is NBA players get for winning All-Star Weekend contests.  There would be three rounds, one for practice, one to determine the order, and one for the championship.  Since the first round is just to get the players loose, the last two rounds become the most important.  At the end of the second round the order for the “Gotcha” Championship will be determined this way, the first person out stands on the three point line, the next person out walks up and decides whether he would like to be in front of or behind that person, the following contestant determines where he would like to be in line and so on until the order is determined.  This adds an element of gamesmanship to the contest.  If I am Klay Thompson and the order goes something like Rudy Gay, Bradley Beale, Dwight Howard, and Dirk Nowitzki I am probably going to want to be in front of Howard because he is a less dangerous three point threat than the other players in the line so far.  However, be wary of that thought because the winner of “Gotcha” is never the best three point shooter.  The winner is the guy that gets a couple of lucky bounces and has a quick release.  The last two  competitors need to be in good shape because all that running back and forth is sure to put the most in shape All-Star too the test.

2.  Mascot Synchronized Dunking
This would be an interesting variation to a Dunk Contest that seems to have lost some of its mystique over the years.  Instead of it being one contestant dunking it would be that player and his team’s mascot in the contest.  For example, John Wall and G-Man would be participating together in this year’s Dunk Contest.  The two dunkmates will be scored on doing the same creative dunk, at the same time on goals at opposite ends of the court.  Think synchronized diving, but instead of falling down the players and mascots will be going up.  Mascots will of course be allowed to use their trampolines which should give some perspective to how high players jump and how much hang time NBA All-Stars have.

3. Dribble Knockout
Another basketball camp favorite, “Dribble Knockout” is a game that challenges your handles more than the current Skills Challenge.  The rules are simple, everyone is given a ball and a boundary that you cannot cross, with the point of the game being to make the opposing players lose their dribble while maintaining yours.  Players cannot  let their balls hit the ground more than once without touching their hands, pick their dribble up, or commit any dribble violations (carry, travel, etc) while the other contestants are trying to disrupt their dribble.  The NBA can get 15 contestants and start the game in the half court.  To prevent players from being spaced out too far, and to make them attempt to knock their opponents’ balls away the boundaries will change periodically. When the first five contestants get eliminated the buzzer sounds and everyone has to be inside the three point arch within five seconds or they are out and inside the three point line becomes the new boundary.  When you get down to five players the buzzer sounds again and the players have five seconds to be inside the paint or they will be eliminated from the contest.  Finally the last two players will face off inside the half court circle to determine the winner.  It would be pretty exciting to see a Mike Conley vs. Isaiah Thomas finale for the king of “Dribble Knockout”.

4.  Dribble Relay Race
A fun way to show off players speed and make them look silly in the process.   This will be an East vs. West contest with each Conference selecting a ten man team.  It will be a best of three rounds series with each round adding a different quirk to it.  Each team has one ball and they will line up on one baseline and race to the opposite end of the court and back doing different basketball drills.  So the first round can be a regular straight line dribble as fast as you can down and back, but instead of simply handing the ball off to the person in the front of the line, the player has to go all the way to the end of the line and roll it thru all of his teammates’ legs.  If the person in the front of the line lets the ball roll pass the line he has to retrieve it, sprint back behind the line, and then he can go.  The second round players will partner up and do a partner passing all the way down the court and back, the third round players will have to spin around in circles five times once they get to the far baseline before they are allowed to dribble back down the court.

5.  Team Shooting Competition
Ten players from each conference will be selected for this event just like the dribble relay race.  Each team will be given one ball and a hoop.  There will be five one minute rounds with each round taking place from a different part around the three point line (first round right corner, second round right wing, third round top of the key, fourth round left wing, fifth round left corner).  Each conference will attempt to make as many shots as possible within the allotted time, and the scores from each round will be added to the teams’ total.  The team with the most points at the end of all five rounds wins the team shooting competition.  You have to get your own rebound, and since there is only one ball the team that gets the ball and passes it to their teammates the fastest is the team that will most likely win.

CJ Hurt covers a variety of topics for MemphiSport. Follow him  @Conradicalness for live tweets about life, love, and sports.

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2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl Preview: Mississippi State vs. Rice

liberty bowl logoThis marks the 55th year of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and it is sure to be an exciting contest between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Rice Owls.

The Bulldogs have played in this bowl three times in the past, and have an all-time record of 2-1 at the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.  The last time they were here, the Bulldogs faithful came out in full support as nearly 64,000 fans attended the game.

Rice has never played in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but they are familiar with Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.  The Owls and the University of Memphis used to be in the same conference, so Rice has made more than their fair share of trips to the Bluff City.  Their most recent trip to Memphis was last year in a game that saw Rice fall 14-10 to the hometown Tigers.

Both teams took different paths getting here with Rice winning the Conference USA Championship, and the Bulldogs needing to win their last two games of the season in overtime to become bowl eligible.

Below is a preview of the match-up between Rice and Mississippi State…

Mississippi State Bulldogs:
The college football season may not have turned out quite the way that Mississippi State fans expected, but head coach Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs are headed to a bowl for the fourth straight year.  This is the longest streak of consecutive bowl appearances in the history of the football program, and it was not easy.

Half of the Bulldogs schedule was comprised of teams that are currently ranked in the BCS Standings with three of those teams currently ranked in the top ten (Auburn, Alabama, and South Carolina).  Mississippi State lost to all of the ranked teams they faced this year, making the Bulldogs record against top 25 competition under Mullen 2-23, but they found a way to beat the teams they were supposed to and pulled off the upset against their instate rivals Ole Miss to secure a bowl bid.

Close wins over inferior teams combined with three straight losses in November against divisional opponents put their bowl hopes, and Mullen’s job, in serious jeopardy.

However, when Mississippi State needed to win out to become bowl eligible in the final two weeks of the season, coach Mullen’s Bulldogs responded with the mental fortitude necessary to hold off an Arkansas team that was hungry for their first conference win and knock off the hated Rebels.

The win over Ole Miss did more than secure a bowl berth for the Bulldogs, it bought the Golden Egg back to Starkville, and saved Mullen’s job for another season.

Players to watch:

-FUMBLE (AP Photo/The Daily Mississippian, Thomas Graning)

FUMBLE- Mississippi State defensive back Nickoe Whitley forces Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace to fumble, thus securing a Bulldogs win.  Whitley will be looking to make big plays like this in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. (Photo by AP Photo/The Daily Mississippian, Thomas Graning)

On the offensive side of the ball all eyes will be on Dak Prescott who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season.  He leads the team in both passing and rushing and is sixth in the SEC in total offense.  Prescott is as lethal an offensive weapon as there is in college football and is able to score in every way imaginable.  He has seven passing touchdowns, 11 rushing scores, and two receptions for touchdowns too.

Defensively Nickoe Whitley is going to be a player worth watching as this will be his last collegiate game. The senior defensive back is second in the SEC with five interceptions, earned Second Team All-SEC honors this season, and do not forget it was Whitley that forced fumble to secure a Mississippi State victory over the Rebels.

(click here to see the Bo Wallace fumble and get a behind the scenes look at MemphiSport Live)

Rice Owls:

Unlike Mississippi State, the college football season turned out the way most Rice fans expected, with the Owls competing for the Conference USA crown.  However, Rice did more than simply compete, they won the C-USA Championship.  This is their first outright conference title since 1957 when they were in the Southwest Conference.

The Owls could not be stopped on the ground this season.  They are 16th nationally when it comes to rushing yards per game, averaging just over 240 total yards on the ground.

(Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

TOUCHDOWN- Rice feature back, Charles Ross, scores a touchdown in the Owls 52-31 loss to Texas A&M.  Ross finished the day with 19 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns.  He will have to have a similar performance if Rice is going to knock off Mississippi State (Photo by Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

Thanks to a dominate rushing attack, the Owls recorded their first ten win season since 1949 under renowned head coach Jess Neely.  Current head coach, David Bailiff, might not have the legendary status of Neely, but he is building a rather nice resume for himself.  This season, Bailiff was named C-USA Coach of the Year which is his second time earning the distinction in his seven year tenure at the school.

In addition to the accolades Bailiff earned this year, Rice had10 players make the All-CUSA team with five of them earning first team honors.  Rice is 15-3 in their last 18 games dating back to their 44-17 win against Southern Mississippi in 2012.

A midseason slip up against North Texas and a near loss to lowly UAB almost cost the Owls a chance to play for the conference title, but they were able to regroup and literally run over the rest of C-USA in route to their conference title.

Players to watch:
With a ground game like Rice has, it will be nearly impossible not to have your eyes glued to senior back Charles Ross.  After all, Ross has proven to be a tough back to bring down eclipsing the 100 yard mark on the ground seven times this season.  He is also 19th in the nation with 1252 total rushing yards, he averages 6.2 yards per carry, and has 14 rushing touchdowns on the year.

Senior cornerback Phillip Gaines is a player to keep your eyes on when the Owls take the field defensively.  He is a two time First Team All-CUSA selection who shuts down the opponent’s best receiver.  Opposing receivers have just 13 receptions on 40 targets against him and he leads the team with four interceptions.

The Winner:

-Who will hoist the trophy-

You can ring my bell- The winner of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl will get to hoist this unique trophy after the game.

It has been three years since the SEC last won the AutoZone Liberty Bowl thanks to losses by Georgia and Vanderbilt (the SEC did not send a team to the bowl game last year).  However, after a two year hiatus there will be a SEC vs. C-USA matchup and it does not bode well for Rice.  The SEC is 4-1 all-time against C-USA in the Liberty Bowl with the lone defeat belonging to Georgia who lost to Central Florida in 2010.

Rice will look to continue the SEC’s three year losing streak, but they will have to find some type of offensive balance if they expect to pull off the upset.

While Rice has a stellar running game, they are the 22nd worst passing team nationally.  It does not matter how good the ground game is, Rice is going to struggle because they are not good enough through the air to prevent Mississippi State from loading the box to stop the run.

Led by an All-SEC Freshman defensive end Chris Jones, the Mississippi State defensive line is more than capable of stopping the Owls run game.

This will be the seventh team the Bulldogs have faced this season who averages over 200 yards rushing per game.  Of the other six teams just two (Arkansas and LSU) ran for over 200 yards against Mississippi State.  The Bulldogs held the explosive Auburn ground game to 120 yards on the ground which was the Tigers season low and only game all season that they did not eclipse the 200 yard mark on the ground.

Prescott and the Bulldogs offense will be in for a bit of a struggle too, as the Owls are the 24th best total defense in the nation.  However, Prescott’s ability to make something happen when he gets outside of the pocket will alleviate some of the Bulldogs struggles offensively.

When it is all said and done Dan Mullen and Mississippi State will cover the spread and hand coach Bailiff his first bowl loss.

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University of Memphis tailback Marquis Warford requests transfer

Former University of Memphis freshman tailback Marquis Warford took to Instagram to set the record straight about the decision that was made for him to leave the team. 

It was announced earlier this week that Warford would be leaving the team and of course people began to speculate about the circumstances behind him leaving.  Reports began to surface that Warford had several altercations with teammates this season leading some people to speculate that he was being put off of the team for none football reasons.  Also adding fuel to the fire of this story is the fact that Tigers head coach Justin Fuente stated that he told Warford that he is “no longer welcome” on the Tigers football team.

With all of the speculation going on about why he was leaving the University of Memphis, Warford took to Instagram last night to let everybody know what was going on with his decision.

warford

Warford was the Tigers second leading rusher behind Brandon Hayes this year with 303 yards.  However, over half of those yards came against Arkansas State where he ran for 173 yards and a touchdown. 

After his stellar performance against the Red Wolves, many thought that Warford had cemented himself as the Tigers second tailback.  He continued to get carries the next three games following the Arkansas State contest, but he found himself in CoachFuente’s doghouse the last half of the season as he totaled just one carry in the final five games of the year.  The emergence of another freshman back, Doroland Dorceus, also cut into Warford’s carries. 

It appeared as though these two freshman backs along with freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch were going to be the backbone of the Tigers backfield for the next three years, but with Warford’s decision to transfer the Tigers will be looking for another playmaker to emerge on offense.

Since Warford was a true freshman this year he is able to transfer to another FBS school and maintain three years of eligibility after he redshirts the first year. However, if the reports about his issues with teammates are true (which according to Warford they are not) then it may be difficult for him to find another FBS program willing to take a chance on him, especially when you factor in the fact that he struggled with fumbles this year. 

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him  @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

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Week 14 TAM Rankings: Vanderbilt jumps Ole Miss after Egg Bowl loss

egg bowlIt was a suspense filled week of college football for the TAM teams, with no game being more enthralling than the Egg Bowl.

With their bowl hopes on the line, Mississippi State held the hated Ole Miss Rebels to just three offensive points and came away with an overtime win in the Egg Bowl.  This was the Rebels first loss to a team outside of the AP Top 25 all year. The Bulldogs have won four of the last five Egg Bowls toad insult to injury.

Vandy had some last second excitement as well this week, needing a  field goal during the waning moments against Wake Forest to get the win.  This is the second eight win season under coach James Franklin.  Before he arrived the Commodores only had one such season since 1980.  The win also secured back to back eight win seasons for Vanderbilt for the first time since the 1927-1928 seasons.

The two FBS schools in Arkansas were on the wrong side of the last second excitement this week.  Arkansas State lost to Western Kentucky thanks to a touchdown pass by Willie McNeal to Brandon Doughty with ten seconds left, and a late touchdown by LSU ensured the Razorbacks finished the year winless in conference play.

Tennessee ended the season on a good note by beating Kentucky, while MTSU extended their five game winning streak by knocking off UTEP.

Memphis struggled all afternoon long in route to an embarrassing loss to Temple on senior day, and Southern Mississippi managed to get their first win in 24 tries in convincing fashion.

It is championship weekend, but unfortunately none of the TAM teams are playing for their respective conference championships.  Memphis is the only TAM team playing this week, so their contest against UConn is the TAM game of the week by default.

The regular season is over for all but one TAM team and bowl season is almost here.

Without further ado, here are week fourteen’s TAM Rankings…

The Mid-South is full of fans with allegiances to different area college football programs. Which FBS program in the three states surrounding the Memphis area is the best? To help end some arguments and start others, every week MemphiSport ranks all the college football teams in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. We call it the TAM Rankings.

1. Vandy LogoVanderbilt (8-4):
Last Game: 
W 23-21 vs. Wake Forest @ Neyland Stadium
Best Win: 14-10 vs. Tennessee @ Neyland Stadium
Worst Loss: 
 56-24 vs. Texas A&M @ Kyle Field
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Tennessee)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Ole Miss) 

2. ole_miss logoOle Miss (7-5):
Last Game: 
L 17-10 vs. Mississippi State @ Davis Wade Stadium
Best Win: 
27-24 vs. LSU @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Worst Loss: 17-10 vs. Mississippi State @ Davis Wade Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 2 (Vanderbilt and Arkansas)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Mississippi State)

3. Mississippi_State_Bulldogs logoMississippi State (6-6):
Last Game: 
W 17-10 vs. Ole Miss @ Davis Wade Stadium
Best Win: 
17-10 vs. Ole Miss @ Davis Wade Stadium
Worst Loss: 59-26 vs. LSU @ Davis Wade Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 2 (Arkansas and Ole Miss)
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

4.  University-Tennessee-Logo-2Tennessee (5-7):
Last Game: 
W 27-14 vs. Kentucky @ Commonwealth Stadium
Best Win: 
23-21 vs. South Carolina @ Neyland Stadium
Worst Loss: 
14-10 vs. Vanderbilt @ Neyland Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams:
 N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 
1 (Vanderbilt)

5.  MTSU LogoMTSU (8-4):
Last Game: W 48-17 vs. UTEP @ Floyd Stadium
Best Win: 48-0 vs. FIU @ Floyd Stadium
Worst Loss: 34-7 vs. North Texas @ Apogee Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams:
2 (Memphis and Southern Mississippi)
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

6.  Arkansas State Logo 2Arkansas State (7-5):
Last Game:
L 34-31 vs. Western Kentucky @ Liberty Bank Stadium
Best Win: 62-11 vs. AR-Pine Bluff @ Liberty Bank Stadium
Worst Loss: 31-7 vs. Memphis @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Memphis)

7.  memphis-tigers logoMemphis (3-8):
Last Game:
L  41-21 vs. Temple @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Best Win: 31-7 vs. Arkansas State @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Worst Loss: 17-15 vs. MTSU @Floyd Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Arkansas State)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (MTSU)

8.  Arkansas logoArkansas (3-9):
Last Game:
L 31-27 vs. LSU @ Tiger Stadium
Best Win:
34-14 vs. LA-Lafayette @ Razorback Stadium
Worst Loss: 52-0 vs. Alabama @ Bryant-Denny Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Southern Mississippi)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Ole Miss)

9.  Southern Miss logo 2Southern Mississippi (1-11):
Last Game: W 62-27 vs. UAB @ Legion Field
Best Win: 62-27 vs. UAB @ Legion Field
Worst Loss: 24-23 vs. FIU @ M.M. Roberts Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 2 (Arkansas and MTSU)

 

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him  @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

 

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Week 13 TAM Rankings: All eyes are on the Egg Bowl this week

flimThere were several marquee match ups featuring TAM teams this past weekend with spectacular finishes, starting with the battle for Tennessee featuring the Commodores and the Vols in Neyland Stadium

A last second field goal lifted Vanderbilt over Tennessee giving the Commodores the satisfaction of eliminating their arch nemesis from bowl eligibility.  This also marked the first time the Commodores have defeated their instate rival in back to back years since doing it in the 1925 and 1926 seasons.

In another equally exciting game, Mississippi State got their first ever win on the road at Arkansas.  It took overtime to do it, but the Bulldogs kept their bowl hopes alive and set up a huge match up with the dreaded Rebels on the Thursday.

Speaking of Ole Miss, the Rebels faced yet another team currently ranked in the top five of the BCS rankings (Ole Miss has played three teams currently ranked in the BCS top five Alabama, Auburn, and Missouri).  Ole Miss came up short against the Tigers of Missouri, and now all eyes are on that showdown with Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

MTSU and Arkansas State both won this week effectively ensuring their bowl berths for this season, while the Memphis loss to Louisville eliminated them from bowl contention.

Southern Mississippi is looking at another historic season of losing.  The Golden Eagles are winless through 11 games thanks to a loss this week at the hands of fellow TAM team MTSU extending their losing streak to 23 games, and if they do not win this week it will be their second winless season.

Some weeks it is difficult to select the TAM game of the week, but not this week.  The Egg Bowl is by far and away the best game featuring TAM teams this week.  There is a lot at stake for the Bulldogs as a win makes them bowl eligible.  However, Ole Miss will do everything in their power to add to the disappointing season that Mississippi State is having.

The season is almost over so fans should savor every minute of college football that is left, even if your school is only playing for pride.  This is sure to be another week full of college football excitement.

Without further ado here are week thirteen’s TAM Rankings…

The Mid-South is full of fans with allegiances to different area college football programs. Which FBS program in the three states surrounding the Memphis area is the best? To help end some arguments and start others, every week MemphiSport ranks all the college football teams in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. We call it the TAM Rankings.

1. ole_miss logoOle Miss (7-4):
Last Game:
L 24-10 vs. Missouri @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Best Win:
27-24 vs. LSU @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Worst Loss: 25-0 vs. Alabama @ Bryant-Denny Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 2 (Vanderbilt and Arkansas)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 0

2. Vandy LogoVanderbilt (7-4):
Last Game:
W 14-10 vs. Tennessee @ Neyland Stadium
Best Win: 14-10 vs. Tennessee @ Neyland Stadium
Worst Loss: 
56-24 vs. Texas A&M @ Kyle Field
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Tennessee)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Ole Miss)

3.  Mississippi_State_Bulldogs logo Mississippi State (5-6):
Last Game: 
W 24-17 vs. Arkansas @ War Memorial Stadium
Best Win: 
24-17 vs. Arkansas @ War Memorial Stadium
Worst Loss: 59-26 vs. LSU @ Davis Wade Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Arkansas)
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

4.  University-Tennessee-Logo-2Tennessee (4-7):
Last Game: 
L 14-10 vs. Vanderbilt @ Neyland Stadium
Best Win: 
23-21 vs. South Carolina @ Neyland Stadium
Worst Loss: 
14-10 vs. Vanderbilt @ Neyland Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 
N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 
1 (Vanderbilt) 

5.  MTSU LogoMTSU (6-4):
Last Game: W 42-24 vs. Southern Mississippi @ Floyd Stadium
Best Win: 48-0 vs. FIU @ Floyd Stadium
Worst Loss: 34-7 vs. North Texas @ Apogee Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams:
2 (Memphis and Southern Mississippi)
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

6.  Arkansas State Logo 2Arkansas State (7-4):
Last Game:
W 35-33 vs. Georgia State @ Liberty Bank Stadium
Best Win: 62-11 vs. AR-Pine Bluff @ Liberty Bank Stadium
Worst Loss: 31-7 vs. Memphis @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Memphis)

7. memphis-tigers logo Memphis (3-7):
Last Game:
L  24-17 vs. Louisville @ Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
Best Win: 31-7 vs. Arkansas State @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Worst Loss: 17-15 vs. MTSU @Floyd Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Arkansas State)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (MTSU)

8.  Arkansas logoArkansas (3-8):
Last Game:
L 34-24 vs. Ole Miss @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Best Win:
34-14 vs. LA-Lafayette @ Razorback Stadium
Worst Loss: 52-0 vs. Alabama @ Bryant-Denny Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Southern Mississippi)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 2 (Ole Miss and Mississippi State)

9.  Southern Miss logo 2Southern Mississippi (0-11):
Last Game: L 42-21 vs. MTSU @ M.M. Roberts Stadium
Best Win: N/A
Worst Loss: 24-23 vs. FIU @ M.M. Roberts Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 2 (Arkansas and MTSU)

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him  @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

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Week 12 TAM Rankings: Four TAM teams are now bowl eligible

ole miss back packThere are now four TAM teams eligible for bowls this year with three needing to win out to earn a bowl bid.

Vanderbilt and Arkansas State are bowl eligible after wins over Kentucky and Texas State, joining the Rebels and the Blue Raiders as the TAM teams who are bowl eligible.

Ole Miss trounced Troy State this week and has a tough game against a Missouri team that is ranked No. 8 in the BCS.  Mizzo is undefeated against TAM teams so far this year thanks to wins over Arkansas State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.

MTSU remains one of the top seven teams in Conference USA, thus guaranteeing that they will not be left out of a bowl this year like they were last year.  All the Blue Raiders have to do is win their last two games against opponents who have a total of two wins so far this season, and MTSU will be going bowling for the first time since the 2010 season.

Tennessee, Mississippi State, and Memphis need to win out if they are going to make it to bowl eligibility, which will not be an easy task for either team.

Mississippi State had a chance to jump the Vols in this week’s rankings, but the Bulldogs just could not knock off the Crimson Tide.  They play fellow TAM team Arkansas next and cannot afford to look ahead to the Egg Bowl in two weeks.  A Bulldogs loss to the Razorbacks will knock them out of bowl contention, making the Egg Bowl the only bowl game Mississippi State will go to this year.

The Vols are fresh off of a bye week and will finish the year with two games against rivals Vanderbilt and Kentucky.  James Franklin and the Commodores have added fuel to the instate rivalry with Tennessee, so this will be an intriguing game to watch.

Memphis took care of business against USF on Saturday, but if Paxton Lynch only throws for 59 yards against Louisville it will be a long day for Tigers fans.

Arkansas managed to come out of their bye week without a loss, and will be playing the role of party pooper against Mississippi State on Saturday. 

Southern Mississippi lost again, and that is all that needs to be said about the Golden Eagles who are riding a 22 game losing streak.

There are several games featuring TAM teams with significant national and bowl implications this week, but the TAM game of the week is right here in the Volunteer state between Vanderbilt and Tennessee.  This rivalry has been more of a “rivalry” historically speaking with the Vols dominating the series 73-29-5. 

However, things heated up in 2011 when a video emrged of then head Coach Derek Dooley exclaiming for all to hear ““The one thing that Tennessee always does is kick the (bleep) out of Vandy.”  Vanderbilt coach James Franklin did not take too kindly to these words, and the Commodores responded last year by beating Tennessee for just the third time in 32 years.  Not only did the Commodores demolish Tennessee, but Coach Franklin rubbed in the 23 point victory by calling timeouts late.  Franklin also took some shots via twitter at the Vols after Coach Butch Jones landed one of the top recruits in state.  

Tennessee needs this win to keep themselves bowl eligible, while the Commodores would love to make sure the Vols are sitting at home this bowl season for the second straight year.

With so much at stake for all of the TAM teams, this is sure to be another outstanding week of college football. 

The Mid-South is full of fans with allegiances to different area college football programs. Which FBS program in the three states surrounding the Memphis area is the best? To help end some arguments and start others, every week MemphiSport ranks all the college football teams in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. We call it the TAM Rankings.

1. ole_miss logoOle Miss (7-3):
Last Game:
W 51-21 vs. Troy @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Best Win:
27-24 vs. LSU @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Worst Loss: 25-0 vs. Alabama @ Bryant-Denny Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 2 (Vanderbilt and Arkansas)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 0

2. Vandy LogoVanderbilt (6-4):
Last Game:
W 22-6 vs. Kentucky @ Vanderbilt Stadium
Best Win: 34-17 vs. Florida @ Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Worst Loss: 
56-24 vs. Texas A&M @ Kyle Field
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Ole Miss)

3. University-Tennessee-Logo-2Tennessee (4-6):
Last Game:
L 55-23 vs. Auburn @ Faurot Field
Best Win: 23-21 vs. South Carolina @ Neyland Stadium
Worst Loss: 59-14 vs. Oregon @ Autzen Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

4.  Mississippi_State_Bulldogs logoMississippi State (4-6):
Last Game:
L 20-7 vs. Alabama @ Davis Wade Stadium
Best Win:
62-7 vs. Troy State @ Davis Wade Stadium
Worst Loss: 59-26 vs. LSU @ Davis Wade Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

5.  MTSU LogoMTSU (6-4):
Last Game: W 48-0 vs. FIU @ Floyd Stadium
Best Win: 48-0 vs. FIU @ Floyd Stadium
Worst Loss: 34-7 vs. North Texas @ Apogee Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams:
1 (Memphis)
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

6.  Arkansas State Logo 2Arkansas State (6-4):
Last Game:
W 38-21 vs. Texas Southern @ Liberty Bank Stadium
Best Win: 62-11 vs. AR-Pine Bluff @ Liberty Bank Stadium
Worst Loss: 31-7 vs. Memphis @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Memphis)

7.  memphis-tigers logoMemphis (3-6):
Last Game:
 W vs. USF 23-10 @ Raymond James Stadium
Best Win: 31-7 vs. Arkansas State @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Worst Loss: 17-15 vs. MTSU @Floyd Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Arkansas State)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (MTSU)

8.  Arkansas logoArkansas (3-7):
Last Game:
L 34-24 vs. Ole Miss @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Best Win:
34-14 vs. LA-Lafayette @ Razorback Stadium
Worst Loss: 52-0 vs. Alabama @ Bryant-Denny Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Southern Mississippi)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Ole Miss)

9.  Southern Miss logo 2Southern Mississippi (0-10):
Last Game: L 41-7 vs. FAU @ M.M. Roberts Stadium
Best Win: N/A
Worst Loss: 24-23 vs. FIU @ M.M. Roberts Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Arkansas)

 

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

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5 Teams That Stand Between Memphis And Bowl Eligibility

The University of Memphis has been to just seven bowl games in the history of the football program.  They will need to win out to make it to their eighth.  The Tigers currently have a bowl record of 4-3. -Photo by Justin Ford USA Today Sports-

The University of Memphis has been to just seven bowl games in the history of the football program. They will need to win out to make it to their eighth. The Tigers currently have a bowl record of 4-3. -Photo by Justin Ford USA Today Sports-

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…

usfSouth 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.

louisvilleLouisville 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.

templeTemple 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.

uconnConnecticut 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 logoMemphis 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.

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Week 11 TAM Rankings: Ole Miss and MTSU are the first TAM teams to become bowl eligible

hotty toddyTwo of the TAM teams have managed to reach bowl eligibility this week with MTSU shutting out FIU and Ole Miss defeating fellow TAM team Arkansas.

Ole Miss is definitelygoing bowling, but there is still work to be done for the Blue Raiders who were bowl eligible last year (finished 8-4 on the year).  MTSU  must finish in the top seven of Conference USA to ensure that they get a bowl bid this season and if they keep on playing like this they will be in a bowl this year. 

Vanderbilt did something this weekend that it had not done in 22 years, and that was beat the Florida Gators.  Vandy is now one game away from bowl eligibility with their next game against Kentucky, the worst team in the SEC east.

Tennessee was blown out by another top ten team this week, falling by 22 points to Auburn, while Mississippi State lost on the road to Texas A&M.

Arkansas state won this week, keeping their hopes for a third straight Sun Belt Championship alive.

Memphis kept its bowl hopes alive this week by beating FCS foe UT Martin, and Southern Mississippi lost yet another game.

As always there are several interesting matchups featuring TAM teams this week, but the game of the week honors belong to none other than Mississippi State versus Alabama.  The Crimson Tide have already played three TAM teams and so far they have given up just 10 points to TAM teams.  It is now the Bulldogs turn to take a shot at the No. 1 team in the BCS, and hopefully for Mississippi State fans they fare better than the TAM teams before them.

The bowl picture is getting clearer with every passing week.  It is put up or shut up time for several TAM teams who have bowl aspirations.  This is sure to be another intriguing week as the pressure begins to build on each team.

Without further ado here are week eleven’s TAM Rankings…


The Mid-South is full of fans with allegiances to different area
college football programs. Which FBS program in the three states surrounding the Memphis area is the best? To help end some arguments and start others, every week MemphiSport ranks all the college football teams in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. We call it the TAM Rankings.


1. ole_miss logoOle Miss (6-3):
Last Game:
W 34-24 vs. Arkansas @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Best Win:
27-24 vs. LSU @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Worst Loss: 25-0 vs. Alabama @ Bryant-Denny Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 2 (Vanderbilt and Arkansas)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 0

2. Vandy LogoVanderbilt (5-4):
Last Game: W 34-17 vs. Florida @ Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Best Win: 34-17 vs. Florida @ Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Worst Loss:  56-24 vs. Texas A&M @ Kyle Field
Wins Against TAM Teams:
N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Ole Miss)

3.  University-Tennessee-Logo-2Tennessee (4-6):
Last Game: L 55-23 vs. Auburn @ Neyland Stadium
Best Win: 23-21 vs. South Carolina @ Neyland Stadium
Worst Loss: 59-14 vs. Oregon @ Autzen Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

4.  Mississippi_State_Bulldogs logoMississippi State (4-5):
Last Game: L 51-41 vs. Texas A&M @ Kyle Field
Best Win: 62-7 vs. Troy State @ Davis Wade Stadium
Worst Loss: 59-26 vs. LSU @ Davis Wade Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

5.MTSU Logo  MTSU (6-4):
Last Game: W 48-0 vs. FIU @ Floyd Stadium
Best Win: 48-0 vs. FIU @ Floyd Stadium
Worst Loss: 34-7 vs. North Texas @ Apogee Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams:
1 (Memphis)
Losses Against TAM Teams: N/A

6.  Arkansas State Logo 2
Arkansas State (5-4):
Last Game: W 42-14 vs. UL Monroe @ Malone Stadium
Best Win: 42-14 vs. UL Monroe @ Malone Stadium
Worst Loss: 31-7 vs. Memphis @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Memphis) 

7. Arkansas logoArkansas (3-7):
Last Game: L 34-24 vs. Ole Miss @ Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium
Best Win: 34-14 vs. LA-Lafayette @ Razorback Stadium
Worst Loss:
52-0 vs. Alabama @ Bryant-Denny Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams:
1 (Southern Mississippi)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Ole Miss)

8.  memphis-tigers logoMemphis (2-6):
Last Game:
 W 21-6 UT Martin @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Best Win: 31-7 vs. Arkansas State @ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Worst Loss: 17-15 vs. MTSU @Floyd Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: 1 (Arkansas State)
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (MTSU)

9.  Southern Miss logo 2Southern Mississippi (0-9):
Last Game:
L 36-13 vs. Louisiana Tech @ Joe Aillet Stadium
Best Win: N/A
Worst Loss: 24-23 vs. FIU @ M.M. Roberts Stadium
Wins Against TAM Teams: N/A
Losses Against TAM Teams: 1 (Arkansas)


CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him
@Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

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5 Reasons Grizzlies Fans Should Not Panic

Photo by Michael Cardwell

Photo by Michael Cardwell

The Memphis Grizzlies have started this year much slower than everyone expected.  They are 3-3 with two of their losses coming against teams that failed to make the playoffs last year.

With the exception of their victory over the Warriors, the Grizzlies looked unimpressive in their wins.  They needed overtime in their first home game of the year to knock off the Pistons and a stellar fourth quarter performance from Jerryd Bayless to hold off the Celtics.

Thanks to their sluggish start, a sense of uneasiness is emanating from Grizz Nation, and it is justifiable.

After all, this is the same team that had the best defense in the NBA a year ago, made it to the Western Conference Finals, returns essentially all of the same players, and last season lost only one game the entire month of November.   They should not be performing this poor right?

Right, but it is too soon to hit the proverbial panic button.

Here are five reasons why it is too soon for the Grizzlies to panic…

Mike Conley’s continued improvement:
During the Grizzlies less than inspiring start Conley has continued his rise to the top of the NBA’s best point guards list.  He is emerging as a serious threat for the Grizzlies on the perimeter, averaging just over 20 points and close to six assists per contest.  Conley is doing a better job of finishing around the rim, and continues to be a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball averaging 1.6 steals so far on the year.    The evolution of Conley’s game will take significant pressure off of the big men in the post, and cause significant matchup problems for opposing teams.

Memphis has managed to make the playoffs in past seasons despite slow starts:
Last year’s start for the Grizzlies was more of an anomaly than the norm for the franchise.  During the 2011-2012 campaign, Memphis was 14-14 with a little more than half of the schedule left to play (there were only 66 games that year due to the lockout) before going on a 27-11 tear to close out the year.  In fact the last month of the season saw the Grizzlies go 13-3 to secure the fourth seed in the West.  The year before that the Grizzlies started 2-1 before losing three straight games to fall under the .500 mark on November 5th.  Memphis did not reach .500 again until January 29th (nearly three months later) after their win over the Wizards, and they never looked back.  After that game Memphis went 22-12 in route to securing the number eight seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.  While this season’s slow start is not ideal, it is nothing that this group of Grizzlies players are not accustomed to and can overcome.

There are enough tradable assets for the Grizzlies to make a move and fill a need if necessary:
Some fans might not like thinking about the possibility of a trade, but it may be necessary to fill some of the Grizzlies needs.  Sure it may be hard to trade a fan favorite like Quincy Pondexter, or players with potential like Ed Davis or Nick Calathes, but people will not mind as much if it makes the team better.  Moving some of the young and talented players on the roster to get more consistent shooting is always an option before the trade deadline, and you never know what happens if you add the right piece.

It is going to take time for the players to get use to a new coach:
Even though he was hired to keep some continuity in the franchise, Coach Joeger is still a new coach.  Several of the players on the team are used to former coach Lionel Hollins style of coaching and way of playing, especially since Coach Hollins has coached core players like Conley and Marc Gasol for most of their careers.  It is going to take some time for the players to get used to the expectations and style of a new coach.    

They have over 70 games left to play:
Sure if the season ended today the Grizzlies would be  a half game out of the final playoff spot, but the season is not ending today and they have over 70 games left on the schedule.  If the season ended today the Suns and the Trail Blazers would be in the playoffs.  Not only would Phoenix and Portland be in the playoffs, but they would be the fourth and fifth seeds in the West ahead of the Clippers, Rockets, Warriors, and Grizzlies (four teams that made the playoffs last year).   Let that sink in for a minute.  Not that there is anything wrong with either one of those teams, but seriously does anybody think either will be in the playoffs at the end of the year?  The NBA schedule is not a 16 game sprint like the NFL’s, or a 12 game dash like college football.  It is an 82 game marathon, so everyone should relax and let the season play itself out until the end.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @Conradicalness on twitter and @churtj09 on instagram for live tweets and behind the scenes footage  from games.

 

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