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VOL. 133 | NO. 3 | Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Could Liberty Bowl Become Regular Destination for Memphis Tigers?

By Don Wade

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The record books will forever note that on Dec. 30, 2017, in the 59th AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Iowa State defeated the University of Memphis 21-20 in the Tigers’ first appearance in the game.

Iowa State running back David Montgomery gets tackled by the Tigers’ defense during the 59th annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

But while the game itself represented the ending to a special season that saw the Tigers go 10-3, win the American Athletic Conference West Division and nearly go undefeated at home (7-1), it also might have marked a beginning.

At least that is what AutoZone Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart is hoping. It took a long time to get Memphis in the game – the bowl has been played in the Bluff City since 1965 when Ole Miss played Auburn.

Last Saturday’s game was sold out and for much of December, Memphians were pointing toward the AutoZone Liberty Bowl as this Tigers team – with seniors that included quarterback Riley Ferguson, receiver Anthony Miller and linebacker Genard Avery – tried to become the first in program history to win 11 games.

Although they fell just short of that achievement, the buzz was palpable.

“It was just terrific to have that kind of enthusiasm in the city,” Ehrhart said. “For Memphis, this was the biggest bowl game they’ve played in. As the hometown bowl, I think it’ll be a great platform for the future for the university. 

“Like I’ve always said, USC and UCLA built their brands by playing in the hometown (Rose) Bowl every three or four years. Miami, when they came to greatness, they built it by going to the Orange Bowl. As coach Mike Norvell said, this will be a great springboard.”


The schedule is far from complete and none of the games have times attached to them yet. But we do know a few things.

The season begins on Saturday, Sept. 1 at home vs. Mercer.  On Sept. 15 the Tigers played Georgia State at the Liberty Bowl and on Sept. 22 South Alabama pays a visit. 

Memphis plays at Missouri on Oct. 20.

The four home AAC games will be Central Florida, Connecticut, Houston and Tulsa. Dates have not been set, but as soon as UCF is on the calendar a lot folks will be circling that one after the Tigers lost in Orlando during the regular season, 40-13, and in double-overtime in the league title game.


Memphis is hoping Orlando will be more pleasant for Tubby Smith’s crew. It will play its second AAC game Wednesday, Jan. 3, at UCF. The conference opener played against No. 22 Cincinnati at BB&T Arena was pretty much a disaster.

The Tigers (9-5) fell behind big early – they scored just 16 points in the first half – and ultimately lost 82-48, being dominated in just about every phase of the game.

A trend that has portended trouble all season was again evident: Memphis had more turnovers (13) than assists (6). Early on, the Tigers got away with such sloppiness on offense because opponents were at an athletic disadvantage.

But now, such careless play threatens to bury the Tigers early in games. They also didn’t man-up on the glass, getting out-rebounded 45-30.

Shooting was also poor: 32.1 percent from the floor, 18.2 percent from 3-point range (4 of 22), and just 47.1 percent from the free-throw line (8 of 17).

The 34-point loss was the worst in the history of the Cincinnati-Memphis series. The previous worst defeat, 88-57, came in the 1992 NCAA Elite Eight.

After playing at UCF, the Tigers open the home portion of their AAC slate with a 3 p.m. game Saturday, Jan. 6, vs. Tulsa. 


As a public service, some warm thoughts as we solider through this cold snap:

Pitchers and catchers for the St. Louis Cardinals report to spring training in Jupiter, Florida, on Feb. 13. Position players report Feb. 18. And the Cardinals’ first Grapefruit League game is Feb. 23 against the Miami Marlins.

The Cardinals open the regular season on March 29 in New York against the Mets. The home opener at Busch Stadium is Thursday, April 5, at 6:15 p.m., vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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