MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Memphis is showing that it’s no one-year wonder.
After claiming a share of its first conference title in over four decades last season, Memphis has won its first five games this season. A program that went a combined 12-48 from 2009-13 hasn’t lost a game in nearly a full calendar year.
Memphis has won 12 straight games overall. The only Football Bowl Subdivision programs owning longer active win streaks are No. 1 Ohio State with 18 straight and No. 2 TCU with 13 in a row. Memphis has this week off before putting that streak on the line Oct. 17 when it hosts No. 14 Mississippi.
“About half the team has been through the hard times before and don’t want to go back,” Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “You’ve got another half of the team that’s never been a part of the hard times and don’t know any different. That balance gives them a little bit of perseverance when the times are tough.”
Perhaps the biggest sign of how far Memphis has come is that the Tigers have stayed undefeated without playing up to their full potential. They’ve erased halftime deficits in their last three games.
“I do like the fact that our kids have not panicked when they’ve been behind,” Fuente said. “They haven’t hung their heads. They’ve just continued to play and find a way out of those holes. … In the same respect, I don’t like the way we’ve played early. I feel like we’ve been a little bit out of our minds. We’ve made some uncharacteristic mistakes.”
Memphis’ turnaround began last season, when the Tigers went 10-3 with a Miami Beach Bowl victory to match a school record for wins. The Tigers also tied Central Florida and Cincinnati for first place in the American Athletic Conference to grab a share of their first league title since winning a Missouri Valley Conference crown in 1971.
The Tigers have built on that momentum so far this season. Their last loss was a 28-24 setback against Houston on Oct. 11, 2014.
“I guess it’s hard to believe to everybody else, but to us, as long as we go 1-0 every week, I guess more wins are going to keep coming,” Memphis running back Doroland Dorceus said last week after a 24-17 victory at South Florida.
Memphis ranks fourth nationally with 47.8 points per game. Quarterback Paxton Lynch ranks third in passing efficiency and has completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and 1,535 yards. He hasn’t been intercepted all season in 146 attempts.
Fuente says Lynch has worked “incredibly hard” to improve but pointed out that the junior also has benefited from the offense’s overall improvement.
“When he was a freshman, there were a bunch of other freshmen out there with him,” Fuente said. “There was nobody to turn to out there. It was just a bunch of young guys out there running around. As he’s gotten older, we’ve gotten a little bit older offensively.”
Memphis’ emergence has made the 39-year-old Fuente one of the nation’s rising young coaches. Fuente is focusing more on his team’s hopes of winning another conference title rather than his own rising stock.
“We’ve tried to build this thing for the long haul,” Fuente said. “I think this place has incredible potential. This university and this community and with our administration, I think we have a fantastic future here. … That’s not to say that we’ll never have interest in anything else, but it’d have to be pretty special because I really think this place has got a lot of potential.”
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org .
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