#68 Memphis Football 2016 Preview

Memphis Tigers
Overall Rank: #68
#4 American
Memphis had a great turnaround under former coach Justin Fuente. He took a struggling program and turned them into a power team in the American Athletic Conference. Now he is off to Virginia Tech and Mike Norvell takes over. Coach Norvell spent the last four seasons at Arizona State, serving as the team’s offensive coordinator. The job will be tough for the new staff now that expectations are high. Their goal is to keep the Tigers competitive in the AAC year in and year out.
2015 Record: 9-4, 5-2
2015 Bowl: Birmingham Bowl vs. Auburn (L 10-31)
Coach: Mike Norvell (0-0 at Memphis, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Chip Long
Defensive Coordinator: Chris Ball
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Doroland Dorceus, RB, 661 yards
Passing: Phil Mayhue, WR, 44 yards
Receiving: Anthony Miller, WR, 694 yards
Tackles: Shareef White, LB, 63
Sacks: Christian Johnson, DE, 4.0
Interceptions: Arthur Maulet, DB, 2; Dontrell Nelson, DB, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Sam Craft, WR Phil Mayhue, WR Roderick Proctor, LB Genard Avery, LB Jackson Dillon, K Jake Elliott, P Spencer Smith
Key Losses: RB Jarvis Cooper, QB Paxton Lynch, WR Mose Frazier, TE Alan Cross, OL Taylor Fallin, DB Reggis Ball, LB Leonard Pegues, LB Wynton McManis
Memphis boasted one of the most explosive offenses in 2015. Coach Norvell is an offensive specialist and he will have this team scoring a ton of points. Yet, there are a lot of talented players to replace. Quarterback Paxton Lynch is off to the NFL after throwing for 3,776 yards and 28 touchdowns with just four interceptions in 2015. It is always tough to replace a first round NFL draft pick. The job will fall to junior college transfer Riley Ferguson, redshirt freshman Brady Davis or senior Jason Stewart. Ferguson is probably the best man for the job after a successful stint at the junior college ranks. But whoever the quarterback may be, they will be successful in this offense. Anthony Miller, Phil Mayhue and Roderick Proctor form a very talented group of receivers. Miller was the big play threat last season, catching 47 passes for 694 yards and five touchdowns. While the passing game takes a step back, Memphis will look to a talented stable of running backs. Doroland Dorceus rushed for a team high 661 yards and eight touchdowns and Sam Craft is a dynamic playmaker who can line up in the backfield or at wide receiver. This team may not average over 40 points per game again, but they will get pretty close to that mark even without Lynch.
The hope in Memphis is that the defense can step up and cover any setbacks the offense may face. The unit struggled at times last year, especially against the pass, but there is enough experience returning to see significant improvement. Christian Johnson, Latarius Brady and Ernest Suttles are all decent pass rushers from the end spots and there is experience in the middle of the line too with Donald Pennington and Jared Gentry leading the way. Last year the Tigers recorded just two sacks per game and getting more consistent pressure in the backfield could make life much easier for the secondary. The linebackers are very experienced with Genard Avery, Jackson Dillon and Shareef White leading the way. Avery is the athletic linebacker who can help out the front four when it comes to getting to the quarterback. Safety Reggis Ball is gone after intercepting five passes during his senior season. However, former Alabama safety Jonathan Cook should be a fine replacement. Cornerbacks Arthur Maulet and Dontrell Nelson each picked off two passes in 2015 and Chauncey Lanier and Shaun Rupert are upperclassmen as well and the more experienced cornerbacks you have in the AAC, the better.
The Bottom Line:
This is an important season for Memphis. They have to keep the good times going under the new coaching staff. The success has really only been there for two years and the program cannot afford to take a big step back or they could keep sliding down the AAC pecking order. The strength of the AAC is in the West where Memphis will have to take on Houston and Navy. Home contests against Temple and South Florida will not be easy either. If those games start going against the Tigers, Memphis could start sliding the wrong direction. But with this offense and a coach who knows how to run a potent offense, expect Memphis to continue competing for AAC titles.
Projected Bowl: Military Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 179.5 (55th in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 307.5 (18, 3)
Total Offense: 486.9 (19, 3)
Scoring Offense: 40.2 (11, 2)
Rushing Defense: 146.5 (38, 5)
Pass Defense: 260.2 (106, 9)
Total Defense: 406.7 (77, 7)
Scoring Defense: 27.3 (67, 7)
Turnover Margin: 0.62 (23, 5)
Sacks: 2.00 (70, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 1.31 (22, 3)