Mike Norvell and the Memphis Tigers run Tennessee

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Joe Broback

Contributor at Champion Insiders
Joe is a writer covering the NFL, NBA, NHL and college football. He also currently writes for SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty, covering the American Athletic Conference since 2016. Joe enjoys collecting shoes, playing sports, and anything fitness related.
Joe Broback
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Justin Fuente inherited a Memphis Tigers team that went 5-31 the previous three years. He won seven games over the next two, and 19 in the two years after that, leading to his hiring at Virginia Tech. Memphis replaced him with Mike Norvell, and there were many who thought the Tigers success would take a dip. If anything Norvell’s elevated them to another level. We saw them take another step Saturday night in their 54-48 win over SMU, and this could be just the beginning.

The alpha Memphis Tigers

Memphis’ win over SMU Saturday was just the latest example of how far this team’s come under Norvell. It also showed how dangerous they continue to be. Brady White’s the latest explosive Tigers passer, and he’s blessed with a plethora of talent at the skill positions. Their success is unmatched by any team in the state, and the Tigers are currently unchallenged at the top.

In a state with four FBS football teams, the Memphis Tigers used to be an afterthought. Since Fuente and Norvell took over, they’ve risen to the top of the state. In the last four years under Norvell, Memphis has a record of 34-15. In that same time period, Middle Tennessee’s 26-23, Vanderbilt is 19-27, and the Tennessee Volunteers are 22-24. The AAC and the Tigers are rising in college football, and Memphis’ continued success puts them on the map.

If you want to talk recruiting, the Tigers won’t be as good as the SEC teams, but they find the right players. What’s the point of getting better players if they can’t succeed? Memphis’ three star talent continues to win football games, proving that recruiting rankings only do so much. Their top players continue to prove that.

An underrated cast

Mike Norvell produced some of the most explosive offenses in the country over the last four years. Wide receiver Anthony Miller and running back Darrell Henderson had monster seasons in the last two years, and play roles on NFL teams. Miller was a two star recruit and Henderson was a three star. This year’s team continues the trend of underrecruited players overachieving.

Kenneth Gainwell, Damonte Coxie, and Antonio Gibson were all backups at one point seeing limited reps. They were behind talented players like Miller, Henderson an Tony Pollard (also on an NFL roster). All three were three star recruits without a ton of major offers, and now are playing their best football.

Gibson’s coming off of a game in which he caught, rushed, and returned a kick for a touchdown. Coxie produced his second best performance of his career with 143 yards and two touchdowns. Gainwell, despite SMU focusing on reducing his production, added his ninth consecutive game of 100+ total yards. If you watched the game against the Mustangs on Saturday, you saw how explosive they were, and the impact they can make on a game. Sometimes, it’s not about the best players, it’s about the right ones. Norvell and his staff continue to prove that.

Memphis Tigers next step: championship

An argument can be made for Mike Norvell as the best coach in the AAC. Head coaches must deal with turnover on their staff, but Norvell’s dealt with arguably the most in his tenure. With the Tigers success comes change, and Norvell’s already dealt with multiple coordinators. Even with that change, he’s continued to find players to fit his system. Now he must take the next step in his career.

Memphis made it to the AAC Championship Game the last two years, but came up short. Granted, they played against two UCF teams that went undefeated and came up short. The Tigers have been competitive in those games, but now they must find a way to win a championship of their own. The Tigers win over SMU on Saturday puts them at the top of the AAC, and they once again control their own destiny. Norvell’s found a formula that works, and the Tigers continue to produce elite football teams. The next step is a championship, and another offseason battle to keep their great coach in Memphis.

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