Head Coach: Mike Norvell
2015 Record: 9-4
2015 Bowl: 31-10 Loss to Auburn at Birmingham Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 5 Offense, 7 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +800000
Odds to win 2016 AAC Championship: +1900
Regular Season over/under: 6.5
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Memphis has some shoes to fill with its best QB in program history departing. Paxton Lynch set records and finished his junior season to take off to the NFL, and the Memphis Tigers will look to rebuild its offense around JC-transfer Riley Ferguson.
Ferguson cannot possibly just “pick up where Lynch left off,” but that is perhaps too easy to state as Memphis finished No. 11 in the NCAA in scoring last season with 40.2 points per game.
Ferguson is a former Tennessee player whose spring gives Memphis a lot of hope. The up-tempo offense should suit him fairly well, and he has some playmakers around him to make it work. Sam Croft and Tony Pollard are good in the slots, and RBs Darrell Henderson and Jamarius Henderson both bring a lot of power to the backfield. Doroland Dorceus is another strong back who will factor in large and he led the team in rushing last season with 661 yards and eight TDs.
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Memphis also has plenty of depth at WR. Junior Anthony Miller is the leading receiver returning with 694 yards a year ago and he will be backed by Phil Mayhue and Roderick Proctor. The OL is a work-in-progress, but Gabe Kuhn will be the RT and Trevon Tate will move from RT to left. That pair will have to hold together a unit with a lot of turnover.
DC Chris Ball has a strong front seven, which is led by LBs Genard Avery and Shareef White. DE/LB Jackson Dillon and DLB Donald Pennington are also key fixtures. White had seven tackles for loss last season and Avery was second with 6.5.
The line will also benefit from sophomore Jared Gentry who looked great in one-on-one battles in spring practices.
DE Latarius Brady will start and he is coming off a knee injury that will leave him out until October. CBs Arthur Maulet and Dontrell Nelson return, but S Jonathan Cook from JUCO will be a key in the secondary, as well.
K Jake Elliot won his second straight AAC Special Teams player of the year award and was a first-team All-Conference kicker for the third straight season. He led all FBS kickers with 128 points in the regular season and set a school record with his 23rd FG in Memphis’ bowl game. Punter Spencer Smith averaged 47.2 yards per attempt and made first-team All-Conference, too.
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Memphis opens the season Sept. 3 against SE Missouri State and will face Kansas in Week 2 before facing Bowling Green in Week 3. Conference play opens Oct. 6 against Temple. The season ends with three tough games against elite AAC schools South Florida, Cincinnati and Houston. It could be a bleak end to the season if Memphis cannot rally to win at least one or two of those tougher matchups.
The Tigers shared the AAC title two seasons ago, but with Lynch departing it sort of signals a rebuild in Memphis. Even with that being the case, the Tigers should still be a formidable AAC team capable of making another bowl game. Memphis has gone 19-7 over the past two seasons and even with Norvell taking over the program the Tigers should continue to be one of the tougher AAC teams.
Prediction: 8 wins
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