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VOL. 132 | NO. 215 | Monday, October 30, 2017

Tigers in Position to Make College Football's First Playoff Rankings

No. 24 Memphis Thumps Tulane 56-26

By Don Wade

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On Tuesday, Oct. 31, the College Football Playoff committee will reveal the first of six weekly rankings. It’s appropriate, of course, because on Halloween there no doubt be one or two imposters disguised as a Top 25 playoff team.

“We definitely expect to be there,” University of Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson said after last Friday’s 56-26 victory over Tulane.

The Tigers (7-1, 4-1 in the American Athletic Conference) have a solid case. They were ranked 24th in the Associated Press poll.

And if you saw the first half of that home game vs. Tulane, you’d be sure the Tigers will be in the playoff rankings. They rolled to a 35-0 lead and did so in style: 58-yard touchdown run by Tony Pollard on a reverse, 82-yard TD run from Darrell Henderson, and three TD passes by Riley Ferguson to three different receivers. At one stage in the second quarter, they scored three times in less than three minutes as their defense kept forcing punts and the offense gave the scoreboard a workout.

University of Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson (4), hands-off to Tigers RB Darrell Henderson (8) in NCAA D1 football action against Tulane on Friday, Oct. 27. The Tigers defeated The Green Wave, 56-26. (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

Then again if you saw the third quarter, the Memphis offense disappeared. Just 30 total yards. Tulane (3-5, 1-3) got back in the game, cutting the lead to 35-19.

“Y’all saw us put up that many points, but that third quarter was terrible,” said senior wide receiver Anthony Miller, who in the first quarter became the Tigers’ all-time leader in receiving yards. “We have yet to play a complete game. And that’s been our goal the whole season.”

Miller’s right. Yet the Tigers’ resume includes two wins over teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at the time the Tigers beat them (UCLA and Navy).

Memphis sits alone atop the West Division of the AAC and the path is there to play in the league championship game. Win that one, and they well could be on their way to the Peach Bowl.

And yes, that’s getting ahead of things.

“I think we’ve done a good job,” Tigers coach Mike Norvell said. “Whether we’re (in the playoff rankings) or not doesn’t dictate who we are.”

That’s not an exciting answer, but it’s the correct answer.

That said, the Tigers’ chances are good.

Since the playoff rankings began in 2014, the Tigers have spent a total of three weeks in them. They came consecutively in 2015 (Justin Fuente’s last season here) when in the first rankings in Week 9 they were 8-0 and debuted at No. 13. With a loss they fell to No. 21 in Week 10 and held that spot in Week 11 even after dropping to 8-2.

But more interesting is to compare the Tigers’ playoff rankings resume with some area SEC teams. From 2014 to the present Arkansas made the rankings for one week and even then the Razorbacks were No. 25. Ole Miss has spent a total of 12 weeks in the rankings, but we know that era under Hugh Freeze was all smoke, mirrors, and creating a lot of future work for lawyers.

Tennessee spent a total of six weeks in the rankings, but never got higher than No. 17.

Ole Miss will, in all probability, replace interim coach Matt Luke at the end of the season, the Hogs’ Bret Bielema is still on the hot seat even after a great comeback win at Oxford this weekend, and the Vols’ Butch Jones has been on coaching life support for weeks.

“Honestly, I think we will be in the Top 25 (playoff rankings),” Miller said, “but the media, ESPN, they never give us as much credit as we deserve. So we just fall back on ourselves and stay focused on what we need to do each and every week.”

Good plan. For Norvell is correct, the rankings do not dictate who the Tigers are. But how the Tigers react to them this week, and going forward, will influence their season’s final destination.

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