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YEAR OF THE TIGER: Memphis Tigers deliver AAC Championship in 12-2 season for the books

Who says Memphis is only a basketball town?

Terry Davis

The 2019 Memphis Tigers’ football team will always be remembered. The team followed the odds and reached the Cotton Bowl – which is basically the Super Bowl for any non Power-Five team. Penn State got the win, but Tigers fans have nothing to hang their heads over.

Some of the Memphis faithful will have a hard time trying to pick the memorable moment of the season. At the start of the season, several oddsmakers had projected Memphis to win every game on their schedule. But what were the biggest moments in the season? And what is the outlook going forward?

BIG MOMENT #1: Was it the opening day win over the Ole Miss Rebels?

Bryce Huff makes the play that likely will be remembered as “the safety” that helped Memphis beat Ole Miss in the opening game of the 2019-20 football season. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

The season opener against the Rebels was the worst offensive performance of the season, but it may have been one of the best defensive games. The Tigers defeated Ole Miss 15-10 and that set the foundation for the rest of the season.

The most impressive part of the game may not have been the final score, but it was an indication that the slow wave for the support for the team had begun to shift. For a change, Tiger blue dominated the Liberty Bowl instead of Ole Miss red.

BIG MOMENT #2: Was it College GameDay?

OH NO HE DIDN’T! Lee Corso got booed after picking SMU over the Tigers. (Photo: Johnathan Martin)

For the first time in history, Memphis was the featured city for the college football preview show College GameDay. There was great anticipation leading up until the last minute if Memphis would be the chosen. The Tigers had to stave off a poor performance at Tulsa and survived a missed potential game-winning field goal from Tulsa.

Fans from all over Memphis camped out on Beale Street to have the choice location to be seen on the three-hour television show. The crowd did not disappoint. Some questioned if it was the right move to have the show broadcasted from Beale Street, but when the show aired it was perfect for television.

The city received so many kind words from both the on-air staff and many people associated with the show. Weeks after the event people from the show continue to show respect for how the city showed up the program.

That was just the appetizer for the day. The SMU Mustangs came into the game ranked 14th in the nation, ahead of the Tigers in both polls. The winner would have the inside track to make it to a New Year’s Six Bowl game.

The game was a sellout and was on national television.  The game was another see of blue.  Everything from the Tiger Walk as the team enter the stadium to the 54-48 win to jump to the front of the line with the group of five in the national polls. Not since the 2015 season had the team had such high expectations.  In 2017 the team was a missed field goal from going to the Peach Bowl.

BIG MOMENT #3: Was it the Cotton Bowl?

Patrick Taylor Jr. scored a touchdown but was otherwise limited by the Penn State defense. (Photo: Terry Davis)

For Tigers fans, the Cotton Bowl was treated like The Super Bowl. Half of the 58,000 fans at the game were Tigers fans, and it seemed as if everywhere you went in Dallas, a “Go Tigers” chant could be heard. There were so many selfies of people at the game to document the historic event.

Many outsiders did not give the Tigers much of a chance to win the game. If a play or two had gone differently the Tigers may have left Dallas with a Cotton Bowl trophy. The Tigers did put up a good fight and earned a lot of respect from college football fans across the nation.

HONORABLE MENTION: “Joey caught the ball!”

“Joey caught the ball!”

That was the saying from every Tiger fan after a controversial call in the Temple game. To this day, Joey Magnifico claims to have made the catch. It took several minutes for the replay booth to overturn that call.  If the Tigers get a different ruling on that play, perhaps Temple doesn’t hand Memphis its first loss of the season.

THE FUTURE

Brady white passed 4,000 passing yards for the season. (Photo: Terry Davis)

In the next several weeks, we will learn which players will enter the NFL Draft. Some may transfer. Quarterback Brady White has not committed whether he’ll go pro or play his final year of eligibility next season.

But the core of the offense and defense will come back next season. The depth that has served the Tigers so well this season is poised to only get better going forward.

Memphis should have one of the best recruiting classes in program history going into next season. With former coach Mike Norvell now at Florida State, Ryan Silverfield has been elevated from offensive line coach to head coach. That’s good for continuity, and the players cheered when they got the news of Silverfield’s promotion.

If White does return, Memphis may be the betting favorite to make it to the Sugar Bowl.

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