It was all going so well for the Memphis Tigers last year.
Like the Navy Midshipmen, the U of M entered November of 2015 with everything to play for: a division title, a conference title, and a New Year's Six bowl bid. Exciting times in the American Athletic Conference led Memphis -- under then-head coach Justin Fuente and then-quarterback Paxton Lynch -- to the threshold of the most successful season in program history since the 1963 team went 9-0-1.
Fuente authored the first 10-win season in Memphis history in 2014, and through the first two months of the 2015 season -- which included a statement win over Ole Miss -- the Tigers improved upon what they had built the year before. As they prepared to host Navy on an autumnal Saturday night in the venerable Liberty Bowl stadium, everything was possible for a basketball school which stumbled into pigskin prosperity.
The Midshipmen, though, were playing for the same high stakes. Thrust into a thrilling conference race for the first time in well over a century of college football, Navy wanted AAC and New Year's Six glory for itself. Memphis had carried itself perfectly to that point in the season, but Navy -- relishing the freshness of its gridiron adventure -- took that moment in Tennessee and approached it with an enthusiasm which translated into the trenches, Memphis -- enjoying the ride in September and October -- arrived at this latter stage of the season and suddenly felt the full weight of the moment. Navy outplayed Memphis in the first half, but didn't have a large scoreboard margin to show for it. In the third quarter, though, the Midshipmen took control. This game figured to be a barnburner, but in the end, it was a butt-kicking. Navy abruptly changed the trajectory and tone of the 2015 AAC West race.
Memphis -- even with a rising star as a coach and a highly-sought NFL prospect at quarterback -- never recovered from that moment.
It is hardly a new story in the history of college football: Team A roars out of the gate in September and ambushes opponents. The early success flows into in an October in which the team -- emboldened and inspired -- continues to pull through tough situations. Ah, but then the possibility of a major bowl game and championship glory -- fueled by constant media coverage -- oppresses and smothers a team in November. A team begins to feel it has something to lose, something that will be taken away if it doesn't continue to play well. The psychological dynamic changes, and a season falls apart.
Memphis lost three games in November of 2015 after flourishing for so long.
Now, Fuente is off to Virginia Tech. Lynch is with the Denver Broncos. Much of Memphis won't be recognizable compared to 2015. The program entrusted its future to former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. The former Todd Graham assistant is just 34 years old. Navy can study film on Norvell, but with a new quarterback replacing Lynch, the character of Memphis's offense will need to be studied early in the season.
The big concern for Navy -- or if not a concern, a point of interest -- is how Memphis will indeed change in 2016.
One particular point to consider before the late-October reunion between the teams: If a veteran Memphis team lost focus at the end of its 2016 season, this newly constructed team might struggle in the early half of its season but gather flow and continuity in the second half.
This is the Memphis Boomerang Effect, capital-B and capital-E. The team stung by a season-changing defeat last year could achieve a season-changing victory this year after a period of early-season struggles necessarily created by transitions at the head coach and quarterback positions.
This is yet another point of intrigue in the AAC for the coming season, part of the conference-wide mosaic which will affect the Midshipmen in some form or fashion.