As Memphis took a 14-0 lead over the University of Tulsa on Saturday night, the American Athletic Conference announced via Twitter that two of its teams would play in ABC’s primetime slot the next Saturday.
Assuming the Tigers would ease past TU and improve to 7-1, ABC had already given Memphis’ next home game against No. 15 SMU a 6:30 p.m. kickoff. An easy win was a good assumption at the time, as Memphis led the Golden Hurricane 14-0 after the first quarter, but TU stormed back and nearly soiled the national implications of the AAC’s first ABC primetime game of the season.
“It means everything,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said about the primetime game. “It’s what’s in front of us. For us to be in a nationally showcased game on ABC, I mean, what more could you ask for? The fact that our city, our team, this university, that it’s gonna be on display to show the world and show the country what we’re all about, that’s why we do what we do.”
The Hurricane was a play away from beating both teams that will be featured in Saturday night’s showdown at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
TU kicker Jacob Rainey missed a 29-yard field-goal attempt as time expired to seal Memphis’ 42-41 win against the Hurricane on Saturday night. Had Rainey’s kick been through the uprights, TU would have won and ended a three-game losing streak, rather than extending it to four. And had Rainey made a 43-yard field goal in the second overtime three weeks earlier against SMU, the Mustangs would not be undefeated. TU kicker Zach Long also missed a 42-yarder in the third overtime. Instead, SMU overcame a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat TU 43-37 in three overtimes and continue its climb up the rankings.
The Mustangs beat Houston 34-31 on Thursday night to stay undefeated and jump to No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25. Memphis’ victory over TU put the Tigers inside the top 25 for the first time this season at No. 24.
Meanwhile, the Hurricane — the only team to have both SMU and Memphis on the ropes this season — is 2-6 and riding a four-game losing streak.
“I think it’s at an all-time high right now,” TU coach Philip Montgomery said of AAC competition. “… I think there’s a lot of talent in our league, a lot of great coaches in our league and every week is a battle.
“I think we’re a good football team. Our record doesn’t show it, but you mentioned two of those (SMU and Memphis). I mentioned last week, too, versus Cincinnati. And we got a really good football team (Tulane) next week that we’re going to play. So top to bottom, especially on the west side of it, I think it’s really, really tough.”