Justin Fuente and the Memphis Tigers were the toast of college football (or at least the AAC) last year after they finished with a 10-3 record. It was a stark improvement and an amazing season for a program that had been a perennial bottom feeder for years prior to Fuente’s arrival, and both he and his team garnered a significant amount of praise as a result.
However, 2015 has the potential to be even greater for the Tigers, who have come roaring out to a 4-0 start and have their sights set on an AAC title and a potential berth in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games.
Memphis currently is riding an 11-game winning streak and has shown little sign that it’s slowing down. The Tigers lost several key players from a stout defense that was the crux of the team’s success in 2014, but quarterback Paxton Lynch and the Memphis offense has been rolling in 2015. The Tigers currently rank tied for 3rd in the FBS in scoring offense (53.8 points per game), 8th in total offense (570.3 yards per game), 13th in passing offense (342.5 yards per game) and 28th in rushing offense (227.8 yards per game).
While their offense might not be considered among the nation’s best, it’s still been highly effective, which is key given the step back the defense has taken.
With Lynch and Co. leading the way, the Tigers look poised to make a run toward an AAC title, and have a very realistic shot of grabbing the lone automatic berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game that’s granted to the Group of Five. Granted, Memphis’s conference slate will provide its fair share of challenges and, barring a major upset, the Tigers will see their winning streak snapped in two weeks when they square off against No. 3 Ole Miss.
Still, an 11-1 or 10-2 record doesn’t at all seem out of the realm of possibility, though the AAC West crown and a spot in the inaugural conference championship game could very well be decided in early November, when Memphis faces Navy and Houston in back-to-back weeks.
The fact that the Tigers are even in the discussion to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game speaks volume to what Fuente has done since taking the reigns of the program prior to the 2012 program and why he’s viewed so highly throughout college football. In the three years before his arrival, Memphis had won just five games. Now, back-to-back conference championships and 10-win seasons seem like a very real possibility.
Fuente may be lured away as early as this offseason by a more prestigious program, and he’s certainly earned it. He’s orchestrated a remarkably quick turnaround and transformed Memphis into an AAC power.
However, discussions regarding his future can wait for another few months. For the time being, the Tigers will solely be focused on the road ahead, one that has the potential to lead to an AAC crown and a coveted spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games.
Such an accomplishment would be the pinnacle of an already highly successful tenure for Justin Fuente.