The Memphis Tigers have been one of the most consistently strong teams in the American Athletic Conference over the last three years. But it was not so long ago that they were a pretty miserable group of football playing dudes. They went just 3-9 in 2013 and had only one victory in 2010. A few seasons of Justin Fuente and the stylings of Paxton Lynch and Tank Jakes washed the bad times away. But Fuente left for Virginia Tech before last season and Lynch and Jakes are both gone as well.
So what happened in 2016? Well things still went pretty well. The Tigers went 8-5 overall and 5-3 in league play plus they went to their third-straight bowl game. All in all, a job well done by Mike Norvell and his staff. But that memory of days gone wrong has to be sneaking back just a smidge, meaning 2017 will be a big season for Memphis to prove that it is still legit and not on the way back down.
What They Do Well
They sure can sling the ol’ pigskin. That’s what happens when you’ve got a splendid quarterback to throw the ball and the Tigers had that in Riley Ferguson (who is going to be back this season as well). Ferguson threw for more yards than any other signal caller in the AAC and tied for the most touchdown throws with Dane Evans of Tulsa. His QB rating fell behind only Quinton Flowers, the excellent QB for the USF Bulls. With Ferguson at the helm, the Tigers ranked second in the conference in passing offense behind East Carolina. They also ranked third in scoring (38.8 PPG), which was the 15th-best mark in the country.
Special teams was also an area that Memphis put an emphasis on and it showed. The Tigers led the AAC in kickoff return yardage, with three taken back for touchdowns, which matched the output of the rest of the league combined. Tony Pollard was at the forefront of that excellent return game, as he averaged 28.1 yards per return and brought two back to the house.
What They Don’t Do Well
For how well they played in two phases of the game, the Tigers didn’t appear to have much luck on defense, at least on paper. They ranked second to last in the conference in yards allowed, but they made up for that by forcing the most turnovers in the league (29).
In addition, they didn’t protect Ferguson as well as they could have, allowing 35 sacks in 13 games.
Players to Watch
Riley Ferguson, QB
We already got into Ferguson’s skill set, which has him ready to challenge Flowers for the title of best quarterback in the conference.
Doroland Dorceus, RB
The man with possibly the best name in the league has steadily improved throughout his college career. He tallied career-highs in rushing yards (810), yards per carry (6.1) and rushing touchdowns (nine) last season.
Anthony Miller, WR
Ferguson had a favorite receiver and it was 100 percent Miller. The 5’11” redshirt senior was an All-AAC second teamer last year when he piled up 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns on 95 receptions.
Genard Avery, LB
Avery is a difference maker on defense and a sleeper pick to be a first-team all-conference performer. He had 79 total tackles last season, 61 of which were solo jobs. He also had 10.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks and two interceptions.
Tony Pollard, KR
The specialist was extremely dangerous in the open field. Opposing teams need to be ready.
Do They Play Cincinnati
They do not, which may be a good thing for the Bearcats, who have lost three-straight meetings with the Tigers, including a 34-7 shellacking in 2016.
Memphis is going to be really good. On paper, they are loaded on offense with some standout players on the other side of the ball as well. With a few teams poised to either be in rebuilding mode or taking a step back, the Tigers have a really good shot at challenging for a conference title. With Ferguson leading the charge, expect them to win at least nine games and represent the West Division in the AAC championship game.