Memphis, you were so beautiful to me. I’ve always loved you and now is no different. I wanted you to work so badly.
You have Three Six Mafia, Tony Allen, and now you had a college football team hellbent on causing carnage at the end of the season. I dreamed of telling every Alabama fan in the world that Memphis got the final playoff spot over the Tide, even if that wasn’t true.
It could have been you Memphis, but suddenly it wasn’t.
You probably won’t make a New Years Six bowl after a historic start.
I take that back, you could. You still have plenty of chances for nice wins on your schedule. But if you fail to do so, that'll be ok, that'll be just fine. No matter what happens, this season has been far from a lost one. I know you don’t want to hear it, but you’ve come quite a long way.
You've lost two consecutive games to Navy and Houston. Both teams made several opponents look silly for several years. There is no shame in either one of those losses. Good teams sometimes have better nights; it's football.
Must I remind you of the past?
I remember sitting in a Louisville press box watching Memphis play. It was, for the most part, an awful game. The temperature was ten degrees, the stadium was full of many fans who didn’t appear to have much interest in being there, and the game was full of nonsense. It featured two teams who refused to win. Memphis was better in that aspect than Louisville, I guess. They threw a pick-six on the Cardinals 35-yard line then failed to score a touchdown after four tries from inside the five-yard line.
"You don't have to be perfect [to beat Louisville] but you've got to be pretty close," Memphis Head Coach Justin Fuente would say following the loss. "At least that's what we have to be."
He was right. With a 3-6 record coming into the game, Memphis didn’t have room for error if they wanted to beat almost any competent opponent. But even in the midst of awfulness on that Saturday afternoon, I saw enough that made me think Memphis was headed in the right direction. The future was clearly bright. This was only the second year for Head Coach Justin Fuente and the first year of QB Paxton Lynch.
Rewind two years before this, Memphis would go 2-10. They would lose four consecutive games to end the season. Larry Porter would be fired, and there was absolutely zero optimism surrounding the program.
There was no reason for it. Why should optimism have been anywhere?
Memphis had won a total of five games in three seasons; they hadn't gone to a bowl game before 2008. Quite frankly in two consecutive decades leading up to 2008, they had been more terrible than average. It was bad, it was awful. The verbiage could go on. At the moment, you could look at any direction in Tennessee and you'd find a team that had experienced more success. Even you, Vanderbilt. USA Today would call you one of the worst teams of the decade. That sentiment could have easily been the same for the 1990s and the 1980s, too.
Then Justin Fuente found an opportunity, Paxton Lynch found a home, and look what has been done in such a short time.
This type of stuff just doesn't happen in college football, unless you're running a dynasty on Xbox during a game NCAA Football 2013. You don't go from complete garbage to even a national filler in seemingly the blink of an eye. I know better than anyone, I've watched Kentucky attempt that for many consecutive years. I've watched them complete top ten recruiting classes, and now I've watched them being a verge of missing a bowl for the fifth straight year in a row.
It just doesn't happen. Transitioning from nothing to something is hard, and you've done just that, Memphis.
You gave America several opportunities (and they still will get) to see Paxton Lynch. Personally, I couldn't thank you enough. I enjoy watching that guy play football. So far, he's thrown for 3292 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, and sports a 163.6 passing rating. There's never been a guy like that at Memphis. He's special. I love witnessing him continue to make plays that I don't think are possible every week. That's fun. It appeals to other high-level potential prospects, too. That's important. I applaud him for that and will continue to enjoy him.
You controlled Ole Miss in a decisive win on their home field. In the process, by transitive property standards at least, you became the third best team in the SEC West! You beat a team who defeated Alabama, a team that looks well on its way to being in the National Title game again. You've provided great entertainment for all us. Don't believe me? The archives of the Ole Miss message boards after losing to you are still alive and well. You forced an Ole Miss fan named "The Bama Boy" online to give us this brilliant commentary:
"When you play only weak competition in over half of your 1st half schedule. Freeze does it to run up stats not to prepare his team for real competition ahead. Players can’t get tough and honed playing p_ss poor competition. They were handed the Bama win by poor officials and luck and Freeze knows it."
You gave your school the best start in its history. You put them on the map as a football program. A program that will be a player in the American Athletic Conference title conversation for years to come. Keep trending this direction, and more and more players from the state of Tennessee will think twice before going to the state school. This is what this season has given you: An opportunity to make more noise in the future.
Don't worry about your Head Coach leaving either. With or without him, you have positioned yourself in the right spot, and you will be fine for years to come. Don't be disgruntled, don't be frustrated. Instead be happy, be thankful and be proud of your Tigers. Need I remind you of your past?