Sunday, May 28, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Preview:Memphis Tigers
Memphis had an up and down debut season under Mike Norvell as head coach, as they finished just 3-3 on the year to wrap up with an 8-5 overall record the culminated with a 20 point loss to Western Kentucky in the lower tiered Boca Raton Bowl. There were some positives (Riley Ferguson, beating Houston, beating Temple), but there were some down times as well (44 point loss to SMU, 29 point loss to Tulsa). What the Tigers need to find in 2017 is some solid consistency and the ability to show that the needle will continue to point up in the Norvell ear, much as it had under Justin Fuente before him.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
There were not many people outside of Memphis that believed that Paxton Lynch could leave, and the Tiger passing game would not miss out all that much. Riley Ferguson came in as a transfer from Coffeyville CC, and he took the reins immediately, passing for 3698 yards and 32 TDs to just ten picks on the season. Memphis still managed to score 38.8 points per game last season, and they could very well do that again, and they may have to. David Moore moves up from third to second string behind Ferguson, but two incoming freshmen could give him a push.
Doroland Dorceus failed to hit 1000 yards last fall, but still managed to rush for 810 yards, and scored nine times, all while averaging 6.14 yards per carry. He is back, as is second leading rusher, sophomore Patrick Taylor, who rushed for 546 yards on the season. They should provide a solid combo punch to keep defenses honest this season. Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard also both return as key reserves in the rushing attack for the Tigers.
Anthony Miller was one of the most explosive receivers in the nation last season, as he posted a line of 95-1434-14, and averaged 15.09 yards per catch. He also averaged 110.3 yards receiving per game, and will return as potentially the top ranked receiver in the AAC returning in 2017. Phil Mayhue, who caught 42 passes of his own, also will return. In all, five of the top six receivers on the season ending two deep roster return, giving Ferguson one heck of a stable to throw the ball to this fall.
The line is set up to return four starters from last fall. LT Trevon Tate, LG Dustin Woodward, C Drew Kyser, and RG Gabe Kuhn are all set to return. Every reserve on the two deep is set to return as well, with junior Jace Neville looking to step in and start at RT.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
There really is not much to be concerned about at this point. The Tigers are one of the deepest offensive units in the nation right now, so the entire focus should be on play calling and getting everything ready for the season.
Only Daniel Hurd is gone at receiver, but there are several candidates left to take his place and move on, while the only other real hole heading into fall camp is at RT, where Neville should get first crack at starting after being the understudy there last fall.
The big loss will be replacing 21 made FGs by Jake Elliott, who has graduated. Evan Michael, his backup from last season, will get the first shot at the job as a senior who has never really worked as the PK in a game before as a Tiger. Elliott was a four year starter.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
If the Tigers are going to have one major issue that blocks them from winning the AAC West this fall, it's the defense. This unit allowed 28.8 points per game last fall, and forced their offense into shootouts too many times. In each of the five losses in 2017, the team gave up 42 or more points.
Ernest Settles and Jonathon Cooper both return up front, where they combined for 11.5 TFLs last fall. More will be expected of them if the Tigers are to improve.
Curtis Akins and Genard Avery will both return at LB. They combined for 155 tackles last fall, and much of what happens in the middle of the defense will be conducted through them. They should be a solid anchor for the defense in the 2017 season.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
There are issues almost everywhere that need to be addressed for the Tigers to have complete success in 2017.
Donald Pennington is gone at NT, and they will need a force to gum up the works up the middle. Emmanuel Cooper is the next guy in line, and will be a junior this fall.
DeMarco Montgomery (KAT) and Ty Northern (STAR) are also gone this fall. They combined for 80 tackles last fall. Bryce Huff and Anthony Young are expected to try and step up to fill those jobs.
Three new starters need to be found in the secondary this fall. Chauncey Lanier and Arthur Maulet are both gone at CB, while Chris Morley is also gone at SS. Dontrell Nelson, the only key reserve CB they had last fall, is gone as well. Shaun Rupert could be a fill in at SS, while Jonathon Cook is back at FS.
Nick Jacobs worked as the punter for seven games last fall, but averaged just 38.42 yards per punt, and that will not get it done with this defense behind him.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 UL-Monroe, 9/9 at UCF, 9/16 UCLA, 9/23 Southern Illinois, 9/30 at Georgia State, 10/6 at U Conn, 11/14 Navy, 10/19 at Houston, 10/27 Tulane, 11/3 at Tulsa, 11/18 SMU, 11/25 East Carolina
The Memphis Tigers may have the best returning offense in the entire AAC West, but what will be a stumbling block towards winning the conference title will be their defense. The offense can win most days in offensive shootouts, but that will not always work, and it failed on more than a couple of occasions last season. If the Tigers are to hold off Houston and Navy and any possible dark horse candidates in the division, they have to fix that defense. They are a top three team in the division now, but could dominate with improvements. They are close.