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    Home / College Guide / Memphis football: Big 12 expansion, Mississippi State visit about perception
     Posted on Wednesday, September 15 @ 00:00:08 PDT

    From Big 12 snub to Mississippi State visit, perception about Memphis football isnt reality | Giannotto Mark Giannotto Memphis Commercial Appeal View Comments View Comments The Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium stands were as full as they’ve been since that wonderful November Saturday almost two years ago when ESPN’s “College GameDay” came to Memphis. If you opened the press box windows Saturday night, you saw more than 46,000 fans and two historic marching bands on hand for the Southern Heritage Classic , leaving barely any empty space in this sometimes-cavernous venue. For one night, just like that night when the Tigers roared past SMU in front of a sellout crowd, the old place looked radiant and rejuvenated. At least that was the perception the whole scene gave off. The reality is those press box windows haven’t been washed since I started attending games at the Liberty Bowl in 2017. The reality is all those people covered up all the spots throughout the bleachers that badly need a fresh coat of paint. GIANNOTTO: Memphis believes conference realignment isnt over. Theres nothing left to lose GIANNOTTO: After Hurricane Ida, Memphis is still coming to the rescue of Nicholls State football In college football, a sport that for decades determined its national champion through arbitrary polls and still determines its national championship game through a committee that hardly even considers any teams outside the Power Five conferences, perception is often more important than reality.

    It’s a pressure the University of Memphis is perhaps feeling more acutely than anywhere else in the country this week. Whether it’s the consequences of conference realignment, or this Saturday’s home game against Mississippi State, how Memphis is perceived is not how it wants to be perceived. And, at least from a competitive standpoint, it’s maybe not how it should be perceived. The perception is that Memphis needs to build an on-campus stadium because the Liberty Bowl is 56 years old, and Cincinnati, UCF and Houston all built on-campus stadiums in recent years and got into the Big 12 over Memphis last week. The reality is Memphis needs to show the Big 12 it has the financial wherewithal, infrastructure and alumni support to fund an on campus stadium, more so than whatever structure that’s actually built because of that fundraising. This is a school that needed more than a decade and a significant loan to recently open an $11 million indoor practice facility for the football program in 2020. GIANNOTTO: Fueled by Brady White, Seth Henigans historic Memphis football debut felt familiar NO MORE COWBELL: Mississippi State fans wont be allowed to bring cowbells vs. Memphis at Liberty Bowl The perception is that beating Mississippi State will show all these Power Five conferences what Memphis football has become.

    How it went from a ball-and-chain holding Memphis back to the most successful football program in the state of Tennessee the past few seasons. The reality is the Tigers have already done that before during this wonderful seven-year resurgence under Justin Fuente, Mike Norvell, and now Ryan Silverfield. They proved it by upsetting Ole Miss in 2015 and UCLA in 2017, by beating Ole Miss again in 2019 and challenging Penn State in the Cotton Bowl despite losing their coach, primary play-caller and defensive coordinator in the lead-up to the game. But the perception trumps reality in college football or, in this case, when Mississippi State comes to the Liberty Bowl. The reality is Memphis gets very few chances to measure itself against an opponent perceived to be “better than” in the hierarchy of this sport. So the result matters more. Even the characters involved acknowledge it, however flawed a concept it may be. “I can’t sit here and say it’s just like any other game. There’s a heightened sense of it,” Silverfield said. “When you play a national brand in your home stadium, it’s great. It’s good for recruiting. It’s good for the fan base. It gets people excited throughout the city.

    Obviously winning the football game can go a long way to just continue that excitement. The reality, it’s a different perception from those from the outside looking in and I understand the importance of that.” The danger, of course, is that sometimes those outside perceptions alter reality. It’s the fear coursing through everyone who cares deeply about Memphis football and men’s basketball since last week’s Big 12 expansion was announced. It’s why the result of Saturday’s game is both inconsequential to the reality of the Tigers’ standing in conference realignment and potentially monumental for their perception whenever those discussions come around again. The more wins Memphis racks up against teams like Mississippi State, the more times people see the Liberty Bowl full, the more all of those images are normalized within the flawed constructs of college football, the more likely they are to be perceived as reality. You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at mgiannotto@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto View Comments View Comments

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