Week 4 - Thursday, September 24, 2015 - Time: 7:30 PM ET - Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Who Are They?
Many Bearcats fans may have blocked it out of their heads by now, but Memphis is the team that traveled to Cincinnati in the first week of October 2014 and beat the Bearcats, 41-14, en route to a share of the American Athletic Conference championship. They finished the season with a 10-3 record (7-1 in AAC) and beat BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl, 55-48 in double overtime. There was some ugliness in the bowl game, but point remains... the Tigers were good last season.
Now, they return 6'7" junior quarterback Paxton Lynch. Lynch is coming off a season where he passed for 3,031 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He completed 62.7% of his passes and has some NFL scouts paying attention.
Running back Doroland Dorceus is returning, after spending most of last season in the training room with a knee injury. Sophomore Jarvis Cooper and junior Sam Craft give added options to the rushing attack.
Four of the top six receivers return, including leading receiver Mose Frazier, who brings back 47 receptions, 506 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Alan Cross was a first-team all-league selection last season and remains a weapon, finishing last season with 28 receptions, 373 yards and four touchdowns himself.
Defensively, Memphis is going to be full of new faces, having to replace eight starters and defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who has left for Missouri. All together, new coordinator Galen Scott has to find two new defensive linemen, three new linebackers and three defensive backs. The players being replaced are significant guys too including four-year starters, an AAC co-Defensive Player of the Year and the school's career sacks leader. There are guys who have some experience, but you would expect a drop-off, at least in the early part of the season. Hybrid end/linebacker Jackson Dillon figures to be a good player this season, but questions abound.
Why We Should Worry...
If you've read any of my rankings thus far, you know that I put some value into the quality of a team's quarterback. After all, it is the most important position on the field. Lynch gives the Tigers a pretty good quarterback too. With the returning receivers and the return of Cross at tight end, the Memphis offense figures to be similar to what Cincinnati will field. A number of options, including a balanced rushing attack with a great quarterback calling the shots. I worry about Lynch because a shootout, during primetime, on the road, doesn't tend to end well for the road team. Lynch could turn this year's matchup into a shootout.
Like I said, this game is a major road test for the Bearcats. It's a primetime game on ESPN. Heck, it would have been a rough road game even if the nation wasn't watching. Where the scenario seems to lay out well for Cincinnati in their Week 5 clash with Miami (FL), this one is the opposite. Speaking of Miami (FL), you also have to wonder if that game the following week creeps into the minds of the Cincinnati players.
And Why We Shouldn't...
First off, there is the revenge factor. Does it mean anything? I don't know. I know the Bearcats will be angry after last season's lost, so you should see the best of Cincinnati in this one.
The big reason why Cincinnati should fare well is because of the Memphis defense. They are returning three starters from last season's team while Cincinnati returns most of their offense, including their explosive receivers. On paper, it's not even close. Cincinnati should put up points.
Obviously, you get down to the top two and they are pretty good teams in a ranking like this. The big element here that is concerning is the road trip to Memphis and the increased growth and development of Lynch. Cincinnati can overcome that, but I believe that's going to come down to what their defense brings to the table. I personally believe the Cincinnati defense will be good this season. If that is the case, Cincinnati can definitely win this one. If the defense struggles or the Bearcats aren't on the top of their game offensively, it's going to be very hard to come out of Memphis with a win.