No. 34 Memphis
Memphis was supposed to fade back into college football mediocrity after the departure of Paxton Lynch and Justin Fuente. They didn't like that idea.
The Tigers now have 27 wins in three seasons — by far the most in a three-year stretch in program history — and another rising coaching star and NFL prospect at quarterback.
2016 Record: 8-5 (5-3, AAC)
Memphis suffered a win decline for the second-straight season but their eight-win 2016 campaign far exceeded external expectations.
They lost to Ole Miss, Tulsa and Western Kentucky by a combined 59 points and a 48-44 win over Houston was their lone impressive victory. However, the Tigers had one of the nation's best passing attacks and a plus-eight turnover margin (18th in the FBS).
Head Coach: Mike Norvell (2nd year, 8-5 overall)
Mike Norvell went from Central Arkansas grad assistant to one of the hottest up-and-comers in just 10 years. The 35-year-old learned under Todd Graham at Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arizona State and engineered a remarkable smooth transition from the Justin Fuente era.
Norvell received a one-year contract extension in May (through 2021) and rejected a pay increase in order to bump his assistant salary pool.
"When you have success and you have really good coaches, people are always interested in the guys that you have," Norvell said. "This was a great step in showing the guys that are here on staff that the University of Memphis is committed to our success and where we want to go."
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Riley Ferguson, RB Doroland Dorceus, RB Tony Pollard, WR Anthony Miller, WR Phil Mayhue, OT Trevon Tate, G Dustin Woodard
Memphis returns 90.1 percent of its offensive yards from 2016, a staggering total for a team that won eight games. They return eight starters, led by Riley Ferguson, a former Tennessee and JUCO transfer who proved he's far more than "the guy who replaced Paxton Lynch."
If you haven't read about Ferguson's path, you must do so — immediately. Allow Geoff Calkins of The Tennessean to walk you through it.
Like Lynch, he's a big (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) pro-style pocket passer who can make every throw on the field but isn't afraid to run, picking his spots to gain five, six or 15 yards a few times each game. He had 3,698 yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his first year of FBS action.
“He’s been a leader since he got here,” Norvell said of his senior quarterback. “But I’ll tell you that his commitment to every facet of the program — how he finishes plays, his effort level, the details, film study, all of those things that he’s doing on his own — that stands out. Guys know when you have a leader that’s going to put himself out there at that level, you’ve got a chance to be successful.”
Ferguson is joined in the backfield by senior Doroland Dorceus and Tony Pollard, who will routinely be on the field together with Norvell and coordinator Darrell Dickey loving two-back sets. Pollard, a Memphis native, is also a dangerous receiver and was named AAC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2016.
Their top two receivers are back in seniors Anthony Miller and Phil Mayhue. Miller is averaging 15 yards per catch and has 19 career touchdowns. He and Ferguson connected on numerous deep passes in the spring.
Junior tackle Trevon Tate is moving to the right side and rising sophomore Dustin Woodard is back at guard. They are two of four returning starters on the line.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Jonathan Wilson, LB Jackson Dillon, LB Genard Avery, S Austin Hall, S Jonathan Cook
Inconsistent. Not advantageous. Hesitant.
That's how Memphis coaches and players repeatedly described a unit that was, frankly, really poor in all but a few games.
"We put them in position to make some plays," defensive coordinator Chris Ball said in March. "We just need more production out of them."
Two linebackers will be key to Ball's simplified system, Jackson Dillon and Genard Avery. Dillon plays in their "KAT" position, a hybrid linebacker/end spot that's supposed to be the most disruptive position on the unit. He played just eight snaps in 2016. Avery (below), meanwhile, had a breakout junior campaign, leading the team in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (five).
Jonathan Cook, a former Alabama transfer, is the only returning starter in the secondary — Austin Hall plays more hybrid linebacker than safety. He registered 88 tackles and eight passes defended at safety but also played corner in the spring.
"He’s been doing a little of both this spring," defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson said. "So he’s very valuable, and he has high expectations going into the season."
Sophomore tackle Jonathan Wilson had 5.5 tackles for loss as a freshman and should give players like Dillon and Hall (7.5 tackles for loss) more room to crash the edges.
Notable Player Losses
TE Daniel Montiel, CB Arthur Maulet, K Jake Elliott
Tight end Daniel Montiel is the only major offensive weapon Ferguson lost. The all-conference player had six touchdowns the last two seasons.
Jake Elliott is finally gone after a new-flawless four-year kicking career. He racked up 445 points by making all 202 PATs and 81 of 104 field goal attempts. Elliott was twice named AAC Special Teams Player of the Year and scored at least 120 points three times, including 132 in 2015.
Corner Arthur Maulet led the team with 12 passes defended.
Notable Player Additions
OT Harneet Gill, CB Marcus Green, CB Tito Windham
Harneet Gill should secure the left tackle spot in fall camp. A former Missouri signee, he spent 2014 at Pierce College, 2015 at Butler Community College and 2016 redshirting at Memphis.
Two JUCO transfers — Marcus Green and Tito Windham — and true freshman T.J. Carter are competing for starting spots at corner, though Green suffered a leg injury in spring ball and might not be ready by fall camp. Carter was a three-star recruit from Nashville who passed on a pile of Power Five offers, including Auburn and Louisville. Gree
The Tigers play four of their final six games at home but still visit Houston on Oct. 19 and Tulsa on Nov. 3.
|Thursday, Aug. 31||vs. UL-Monroe|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at UCF|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. UCLA|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. Southern Illinois|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Georgia State|
|Friday, Oct. 6||at UConn|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. Navy|
|Thursday, Oct. 19||at Houston|
|Friday, Oct. 27||vs. Tulane|
|Friday, Nov. 3||at Tulsa|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. SMU|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||vs. East Carolina|