#57 Memphis Football 2017 Preview

Memphis Tigers
Overall Rank: #57
#4 American
Memphis had legitimate concerns heading into the 2016 campaign that they would take a big step back under the new coaching staff. Coach Mike Norvell led his program to eight wins and a trip to the Boca Raton Bowl, where they lost 51-31 to Western Kentucky. The offense will again be extremely dangerous, but the defense is what stands between the Tigers and an AAC title.
2016 Record: 8-5, 5-3
2016 Bowl: Boca Raton Bowl vs. Western Kentucky (L 31-51)
Coach: Mike Norvell (8-5 at Memphis, 8-5 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Darrell Dickey
Defensive Coordinator: Chris Ball
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Doroland Dorceus, RB, 810 yards
Passing: Riley Ferguson, QB, 3,698 yards
Receiving: Anthony Miller, WR, 1,434 yards
Tackles: Jonathan Cook, DB, 88
Sacks: Genard Avery, LB, 5.0
Interceptions: Genard Avery, LB, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Patrick Taylor Jr, RB Darrell Henderson, WR Phil Mayhue, WR Tony Pollard, P Spencer Smith
Key Losses: TE Daniel Montiel, DB Chris Morley, DB Arthur Maulet, LB Curtis Akins, DB Chauncey Lanier, K Jake Elliott
Eight starters return to a unit that ranked 14th in the country in passing offense and 15th in scoring offense. Riley Ferguson threw for 3,698 yards and 32 touchdowns and is poised for a huge senior season. He is an efficient and effective quarterback and his favorite targets are back too. Anthony Miller, a former walk-on, set a school record with 1,434 receiving yards. He also ended up in the end zone 14 times. Phil Mayhue was second on the team with 42 receptions for 677 yards and four touchdowns. Those two give Ferguson two proven and talented options. The effective passing game will pave the way for a dangerous ground game. Doroland Dorceus rushed for 810 yards and nine touchdowns and Patrick Taylor and Darrell Henderson are also back after productive 2016 campaigns. Taylor is a powerful rusher and Henderson is a speedster so Memphis has a wide variety of weapons in the backfield.
There is room for improvement across the entire defense. The team ranked 10th in the AAC in rush defense, eighth in pass defense and 11th in total defense. Coach Norvell wants to be able to utilize the speed of his defense, but they need some strength too in order to get consistent pressure in the opposing backfield. The return of rush linebacker Jackson Dillon, who missed last season, will help with the pressure. Two years ago he recorded 37 tackles and 6.0 tackles-for-loss. Fellow linebacker Genard Avery tallied 5.0 sacks and ranked second on the team with 81 tackles. Curtis Akins was forced into a starting role as a sophomore and he played very well. He will man the middle of the defense. The biggest concern is in the secondary where much of the depth is gone. Tito Windham and Marcus Green, transfers from Oklahoma, will be asked to contribute immediately. Safety Jonathan Cook led the Tigers with 88 tackles last season and the pieces will need to fill in around him.
The Bottom Line:
The AAC West should be very competitive this season, but expect Memphis to be right in the mix. The key games come just five days apart from each other in mid-October. Memphis hosts Navy on Saturday on the 14th and travels to Houston for a Thursday night contest on the 19th. Those two games could decide who wins the West.
Projected Bowl: Hawaii Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 159.3 (84th in nation, 7th in conference)
Passing Offense: 304.4 (14, 2)
Total Offense: 463.7 (28, 4)
Scoring Offense: 38.8 (15, 3)
Rushing Defense: 204.9 (93, 10)
Pass Defense: 249.7 (89, 8)
Total Defense: 454.6 (106, 11)
Scoring Defense: 28.8 (68, 7)
Turnover Margin: 0.62 (18, 3)
Sacks: 1.77 (89, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 2.69 (103, 9)
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#248 Obinna Eze