Preview 2017: Memphis Is In For A Huge Year
After a good season in transition, Memphis is in for a massive season.
There might not have been the big wins like there were in 2015, but it was still a tremendous transitional season.
The Tigers lost head coach Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech, and quarterback Paxton Lynch was off making first round NFL draft pick money with the Denver Broncos. It was a year or rebuilding as the program tried to keep all the production going.
New head coach Mike Norvell and quarterback Riley Ferguson led the way to an 8-5 season after the team went 9-4 the year before. The machine kept rolling – sort of.
You are what your record is – and it certainly wasn’t bad, or that big a drop-off – but there was a big difference. The 2015 team beat a Bowling Green team that ended up winning the MAC title, and shocked an Ole Miss squad that ended up winning ten games. But those Tigers folded late – including a tough loss to Houston.
Last year’s team beat Houston, but that was it. The other seven wins came against teams that didn’t go bowling, there was a loss to Ole Miss, and the other four losses came against the teams that went to bowl games.
Now, with a year of having the pieces in place, there’s a chance to start winning more of those big games and be in the hunt for the American Athletic title. There’s also a chance to make the eight-win campaign look like a down year.
The schedule is good enough to do big things. There’s a chance for one of those 2015-like massive non-conference wins – getting UCLA at home – and the other three pre-AAC games are layups.
Having to go to UCF, Houston and Tulsa in conference play is tough, but if the Tigers are as good as they’re supposed to be, they can handle most of those, and then get through a not-bad home slate.
Nine starters return to a loaded offense, with Ferguson and WR Anthony Miller to be among the nation’s most effective and productive pitch-and-catch combinations – the passing game is going to blow up.
Four starters are back up front, and the running backs are there to balance the O out a little more if needed.
Seven starters return on a defense that had a rough time against the good running teams, couldn’t stop the great passing teams, and finished 106th overall. As long as the offense is doing its part, Memphis should be able to win a whole slew of shootouts.
Memphis won’t just be good again, now that the transition is complete, it should be in the thick of the conference championship chase throughout the season.
Win the American Athletic, and Norvell and Ferguson could turn out to do even more than Fuente and Lynch.