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Memphis had a great offense last year, scoring 40.2 points per game led by now-NFL quarterback Paxton Lynch. But the Tigers still finished with four losses, three coming in AAC play, mostly due to a defense that was gashed by any decent offense. They had a great win against Ole Miss early in the year, but the defense let them down in three-straight losses later on. Either way, Memphis brings in Mike Norvell as head coach, who comes over from Arizona State and brings a few of his friends.
The offense will have pieces, but losing a quarterback like Lynch (28 TDs, 4 INTs) won't be easy. Riley Ferguson is the projected starter, once one of the highest-rated recruits in the country, who went to Tennessee and a few other places before landing in Memphis. The inexperience is a problem, but his potential might just be enough for this offense. Still, Ferguson has to beat out freshman Brady Davis for the job.
Memphis should focus heavily on the ground game with a new quarterback and coordinator in Chip Long. Doroland Dorceus (661 yards, 8 TDs) returns to lead the group along with Jarvis Cooper (389 yards, 5 TDs) and Jamarius Henderson (320 yards, 4 TDs). Sam Craft (333 yards, 5 TDs) can also be used in the backfield, or out wide at receiver. Receiver loses some top guys, so that's another reason the passing game will take more than a step back. Craft likely steps into a receiving role to go with Anthony Miller (694 yards, 5 TDs) and Phil Mayhue (670 yards).
The offensive line lost a couple guys and did some re-positioning in the spring, but left tackle Trevon Tate is one of the best in the conference and should keep this unit afloat with sophomore center Gabe Kuhn.
Defense is the bigger question, though, especially with new coordinator Chris Ball taking over. They struggled against better teams last year, but at least return a good portion of starters at every level. End is filled with experience while tackle Donald Pennington controls the middle. Linebacker has a couple studs in senior Jackson Dillon and Genard Avery. The secondary lost its best player, but returns everyone else including a core of seniors at both corner and safety. New free safety Jonathan Cook has the biggest shoes to fill, but showed well in the spring.
To help Memphis, their early non-conference schedule couldn't have been more favorable, but then matchups with Bowling Green and at Ole Miss will be tough. Beating Ole Miss in back-to-back seasons doesn't seem likely, while they fought BGSU to a 44-41 win last year. Those types of shootouts may not be possible anymore with Lynch gone. Otherwise, the Tigers have a mostly workable AAC schedule that's highlighted by a tough back-to-back against Cincinnati and Houston to close the season. Of course, games against Temple, Navy and Tulsa could also result in losses.
The bookmakers don't believe they can get those wins with a new quarterback. Their over/under at 5 Dimes was at 6.5 in early June with the over at -185. Seven wins should be attainable in Norvell's first season, but getting consistency at quarterback will be of most importance for this team to compete in the AAC West.
2016 Memphis Tigers Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. SE Missouri State
Sept. 17 vs. Kansas
Sept. 24 vs. Bowling Green
Oct. 1 at Ole Miss
Oct. 6 vs. Temple
Oct. 14 at Tulane
Oct. 22 at Navy
Oct. 29 vs. Tulsa
Nov. 5 at SMU
Nov. 12 vs. USF
Nov. 18 at Cincinnati
Nov. 25 vs. Houston
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