Tigers ready to open conference play on Thursday

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MEMPHIS, Tenn-Thursday night at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, the Tigers begin their quest for the 2016 American Athletic Conference championship with their league opener versus Temple. The Tigers-Owls conference clash starts at 7 p.m. (CT).

“I’m excited about the opportunity we have to play the reigning East Division champion Temple this week,” said head coach Mike Norvell. “Temple is a very good football team. We’re excited about the atmosphere we’re going to have at the Liberty Bowl Thursday. It’s going to be a great game.

“We have a short week to prepare. The Owls are a big-time opponent, and Thursday is a big-time game at the Liberty Bowl.”

Tigers fans are encouraged to wear white to Thursday’s game. Also, the first 10,000 fans that come through the Liberty Bowl gates Thursday will receive Memphis mini-helmet keepsakes courtesy of Ashley Homestore.

For Memphis, its pursuit of a conference championship is going to be tough with eight-straight league contests and no bye date over the next two months. Norvell, though, believes his team knows what’s at stake, beginning with Thursday’s game.

“We have a stretch now where we don’t leave conference play,” Norvell said. “Every week is going to be a big game, every week is going to be a tremendous opponent, and that starts Thursday with Temple.

“There’s not going to be a lack of focus when conference play hits. Every game is big. We focus on one step at a time, and Thursday is the next one. Our guys know the level of competition we are facing and also the importance of this step in the season.”

Temple is the Tigers’ first roadblock on their path to the league’s title game. The past two seasons, the Memphis-Temple encounters were hard-hitting affairs, and Norvell expects the same kind of game Thursday.

“Temple is a quality football team,” said Norvell. “They’re coming off their first conference game last Saturday when they were pretty dominant. Coach (Matt) Rhule does as good a job as any coach in the country. They have talented players that love to play the game with energy and passion.

“The last two years, this game has been a real challenge. Last season, they really took it to us. We know the type of opponent we’re facing Thursday, and we look forward to the challenge.”