For a school that’s been known more for basketball in recent years, the Memphis Tigers football team has been on a run recently, with four straight bowl appearances to go along with some quality wins over Ole Miss and UCLA among others. They haven’t won the American Conference Championship Game yet, but they did take UCF to double overtime last season. While Memphis might drop off after losing some key players, the road to the AAC West division still goes through the Tigers. Head coach Mike Norvell enters his second year after taking over for Justin Fuente. Coming off a 10-3 finish in 2017, Memphis will try to capture their first outright conference championship since 1969.
First Discussion: The Offense
There has been some years of great QB play at Memphis from Paxton Lynch and Riley Ferguson, but both are gone now. Either Arizona State transfer Brady White or David Moore, who backed up Ferguson last season, will lead the offense this season. However they should be fine in their backfield, as leading rushers Darrell Henderson (1,154 yards) and Patrick Taylor (866) are scheduled to return.
Perhaps the biggest loss for the Memphis offense comes at wide receiver by losing Anthony Miller, who managed 158 receptions for 1,509 yards. This leaves Damonte Coxie and John Williams will need to step up as the main players in the wide reciever department. Tony Pollard could also be an X factor either rushing, receiving, or even returning kicks. All-conference lineman Gabe Kuhn left the offensive line, but with all four of the other starters slated to return, Memphis should be fine there as well.
Despite the loss of some key players, the Tigers should still have the second-most explosive offense in the conference only behind UCF, and should once again be ranked in the top 25 for total offense after finishing third in yards per game and second in points per game last season.
Second Discussion : The Defense
Eight starters including Curtis Akins and TJ Carter, will return to a defense that struggled in 2017. Memphis allowed 32.6 points per game last season, 94th in the country. They were also 117th (out of 130) in yards allowed per game. Although Memphis was young, they will now be hoping that some experience will allow them to perform better in 2018.
One of the largest things that killed the Tigers on defense was opponent third down conversions, which they allowed 45% of the time. This defense will continue to be aggressive, and the added experience should help cut down on some of the breakdowns. Injuries on the defensive line didn’t help Memphis, with Jared Gentry and Ernest Suttles playing a combined six games. Safety Shaun Rupert is also back after only playing in three games.
Final Discussion: The Schedule
The non-conference schedule isn’t extremely difficult as Memphis getgets Mercer, Georgia State and South Alabama home at the Liberty Bowl to go with a road trip to Missouri providing their biggest challenge.
Memphis starts their conference play with a trip to Navy in Week 2, which should also be a tough game. The Tigers are fortunate enough to play UCF in Memphis, but the key game will be the final week against Houston. Just as the War on I-4 could end up deciding the AAC East, Houston-Memphis could end up deciding the AAC West.
Memphis will still have an explosive offense, but there will be no excuses if that defense doesn’t get better. The Tigers didn’t have much trouble in winning the AAC West last season, even with their defensive issues. Expect for Memphis to win the division once again, even if they do end up losing a step on offense. Starting the right quarterback would certainly help.
Prediction: 10-2, AAC runners up
Featured image credit: Memphis Tigers Athletics