The Memphis Tigers enter the 2013 campaign with expectations. Yes, you heard correctly. The program that had a three-year span in which they went 5-31 from 2009-2011 has a buzz surrounding it for the first time in nearly half a decade.
It was a painstaking stretch during the span, but head coach Justin Fuente has injected life into what was a tattered program before his arrival. Sure, last year’s four-win mark was not great, but for a Tiger team that had won just five games in the previous three seasons, it is a huge leap in the right direction.
The big knock against the program for years was the Athletic Department’s lack of investing time and money into the team. That all began to change in 2010 with the construction of Tiger Lane, a state-of-the-art tailgating area for fans to set up camp on before home games. It was followed by a new scoreboard, which dwarfs the previous one, along with a new sound system and AstroTurf. Currently, the program is working towards raising the funds for a new indoor practice facility.
It all speaks to the changing culture for Memphis football, and that is just off the field. On the field, the Tigers made big strides in Fuente’s first season. Though Memphis did not have a great record, they were competitive in just about every game they played, something that could not be said in the previous three seasons.
The defense was perhaps the most improved unit in the country, going from nearly dead last in total yards allowed to leading C-USA in league games in the same category and ranking in the middle of the pack in the NCAA. The offense also made progress as the season progressed. Their 24.4 points per game was not gaudy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was obvious that the unit hit its stride towards the end, scoring more than 35 points in the three-game winning streak to end the season.
On top of that, recruits are taking notice of the job Fuente is doing. A number of the Tigers’ targets for 2014 have said that they were very impressed with Fuente’s vision and the team’s optimistic outlook for the future, despite a recent history of losing.
As if the fans needed any more reasons to be excited about the season opener against the Duke Blue Devils on Sept. 7, Saturday, the buzz around the program got even higher as Fuente named redshirt-freshman Paxton Lynch the starter over incumbent senior Jacob Karam who started all of last season and was an integral part of the team’s attitude change. Lynch has all the physical tools you look for in an elite quarterback and he could come to symbolize the resurgence of the Memphis team.
Whether you’re a fan of Memphis or not, what is going on in the Bluff City is something to keep an eye on. The buzz surrounding the football team is quite remarkable given its recent history. Memphis is on the rise and it would not be wise for any team in the AAC to sleep on the Tigers. The Tigers have always been a sleeping giant with the resources and local recruits they have at their disposal, and Fuente is beginning to wake that monster up.