If all any college football fan in this state followed during 2017 was Southeastern Conference football, it has been a horrendous season. No one thought Tennessee was going to win the SEC or make the College Football playoffs, but they were expected to contend for an Eastern Division title.
Instead they went through a nightmare season that has resulted in the firing of head coach Butch Jones, a slew of injuries, and seven straight SEC losses. There will be no bowl game for the Vols this season, indeed not even a winning year.
Had Derick Mason not gotten an extension after last year, chances are he might be gone as well because what began as a possibly great season has imploded into a disaster. Vanderbilt, once 3-0, has lost seven straight SEC games as well, and is on pace to allow the most points in SEC history. If they lose Saturday at Tennessee, it will be Mason’s second winless SEC season.
But all is not lost with college football in Tennessee. Between the University of Memphis and Austin Peay, records are being set, championships won and new paths are being blazed, even though their exploits often get less attention and exposure than the bigger schools.
With its 66-45 shootout victory over SMU at the Liberty Bowl Saturday, the University of Memphis clinched the Western division title in the AllAmerican Conference (AAC). They head to their first conference championship game against the winner of Central Florida vs. South Florida Friday. If things break the right way, Memphis could possibly host the December 2 title game at the Liberty Bowl.
New Tiger coach Mike Norvell is continuing on the path forged by his predecessor Justin Fuente, now at Virginia Tech. His team has a prolific QB/wide receiver duo in Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller, plus dynamic running backs Patrick Taylor Jr. and Darrell Henderson. Their defense isn’t so great, but it has shown a knack for making big plays în key situations
Austin Peay was 0-11 last season. At one point they had the longest losing streak in college football. But that was before Will Healy’s program began turning things around. This season Austin Peay was 8-4 overall and completed a sparkling 7-1 Ohio Valley Conference season Saturday defeating Eastern Illinois 28-13.
Healy’s formula includes recruiting top talent like freshman running back Ahmaad Tanner, part of an incoming class rated number one in FCS circles.He had 80 yards on 21 carries Saturday, with a pair of touchdowns. The defense last season was worse in the OVC. This year it is in the upper tier of league programs.
Bottom line is rather than wallowing in the misery of Vanderbilt and Tennessee, fans should celebrate the University of Memphis and Austin Peay for their impressive achievements.