Memphis football’s recent three-game losing streak has taken the shine off of what otherwise has been a terrific season.
However, it’s important to remember, regardless of the recent losses, the 2015 season has been a successful one for Tiger football.
Memphis has followed up an historic 10-3 finish in 2014 with an 8-3 record this season. The Tigers have a chance to match last season’s win total with a home game against SMU Saturday and a second consecutive bowl game appearance to come.
The program has shown it can handle success, which came last season when they won a tri-share of the American Athletic Conference Championship, Memphis’ first conference title since 1971. Winning eight straight games to start the this season, including a 37-24 victory over then-No.13 Ole Miss, to start the season solidified the program had officially turned the corner.
Coach Justin Fuente and Memphis have also shown they are not perfect and have lost games to teams as good if not better than them (No. 16 Navy, No. 21 Houston and No. 25 Temple) – all of which are currently in the AP Top 25.
The losses to the Midshipmen, Cougars and Owls individually are okay losses given the quality of the three teams as mentioned above. The problem is they came after Memphis started 8-0, were ranked in both major polls for consecutive weeks for the first time ever and was ranked No. 13 in the initial College Football Playoff.
Expectations going into the three-game “gauntlet” were at an all-time high. Fans, after years of suffering, believed their Memphis Tigers could go through that stretch undefeated and possibly crash the College Football Playoff.
Paxton Lynch, who’s seen his NFL Draft stock skyrocket in 2015, was a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate, which is obviously unheard in Memphis, much less the AAC. It seemed as long as Lynch, who’s thrown for 3,448 yards, 21 touchdowns and three interceptions this season, continued to play at an elite level, everything seemed possible for the once lowly Tigers.
Then he and the Tiger offense, like the rest of the team, showed they were human. Memphis’ offense couldn’t score the 46 points required to beat Navy, the 36 required against Houston or the 32 points needed to defeat Temple.
The same can be said for a young Tigers’ defense that has had its moments, particularly in late-game situations early in the season, but still looks like a defense that lost eight starters and three backups to graduation, a season ago.
Once again despite the team’s losses in recent weeks, Memphis has not only accomplished a lot in 2015 but in 2014 as well. The 18 wins over the past two seasons are tied for the most in any two-season stretch in team history.
Given the fact this program was on life support before Fuente came to town, this is arguably his biggest achievement. Plus Fuente – and his Tigers – have more than their fair share of achievements to choose from.
“One of my main reasons to come to Memphis was to get to this point,” said senior linebacker Wynton McManis, when asked about if he thought the Tigers’ turnaround was possible. “We’re here to stay. The guys under me and the freshmen are coming in and they see the process, and they know what it takes. They’re going to continue to get better.”
Fuente said he’s learned during this recent losing streak that it’s important to just stay the course.
“You just go to keep plugging away,” said Fuente at his weekly media luncheon Monday. “You have to take the good with the bad. We all understand (as coaches), it’s trying to convey those messages to the kids that’s the hard part, because they hear all the other stuff.”
He also added he thinks his players have handled the recent losing streak well, but that doesn’t mean they’re not heartbroken or distraught.
“They’re resilient and they care and they want to play well and win ball games,” the fourth-year coach said.
It’s important to remember Memphis has a team full of players who are resilient and most importantly – win ball games. Given where this program was a few years ago, that’s all Tiger fans, can ask for.
The losing streak aside, the Tigers have won more than enough games to consider the 2015 season a success.