Our series continues today with a conference newcomer, Memphis.
To see previous entries, click here.
Most important game: Oct. 12 at Houston
Why: Second-year coach Justin Fuente has his Memphis squad feeling a little confident after finishing the 2012 season on a three-game winning streak. Regardless of the competition, that is a good sign for a program that won just five total games in its three previous seasons.
Now comes a step up in competition, one that may be a bit premature for a program that is still developing. The good part? The Tigers are bringing three former Conference USA foes along with them. The bad part? They are just 2-11 against the trio of Houston, SMU and UCF since 2006, with both wins coming against the Mustangs.
The Knights are seemingly the most ready-made newcomer to the conference this fall, and coach George O'Leary has said that his program's goal in Year 1 in the Big East is to win the league title. His squad is also Memphis' first conference test, on Oct. 5, starting a three-game stretch in which the Tigers face their former conference brethren. SMU is the third of those.
In-between the Knights and Mustangs stand the Cougars, on Oct. 12, in a location yet to be determined (likely Rice Stadium or BBVA Compass Stadium). While it may be asking a lot for an improving program to knock off UCF in its first conference test, the Houston game is a much more winnable one for Memphis, and one that can help set the tone early to the rest of its unfamiliar opponents in the Big East.
Cincinnati and a nonconference game against Tennessee-Martin follow, then it's USF and conference favorite Louisville. While the Tigers' two-game stretch to end the regular season against Temple and at UConn would appear to give the program two of its better chances for conference wins -- and, in a best-case-scenario, maybe propel Memphis into the postseason -- it simply won't matter as much if the Tigers don't steal a conference game or two ahead of time and prove that they are not to be taken lightly.
Houston, in a semi-road environment, provides that chance, and an early-conference season win over the Cougars could do wonders for a program already confident after a strong finish to last season.