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Memphis Tigers football pulled off a 3-year miracle. Now what?

The 128-team countdown previews what could be Memphis' second conference title in a row. Do you know how amazing that sounds?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. What now?

According to Sports Reference's SRS ratings, the four Memphis teams that took the field between 2009 and 2012 were among the Tigers' six worst since joining what is now FBS in the mid-1950s.

The Tigers' descent began in Tommy West's final season and picked up velocity during the brief, costly Larry Porter tenure (2010-11).

The squad Justin Fuente inherited in 2012 was dreadful and demoralized. From last summer's Blueprint for a Rebuild:

An FBS team is allotted 85 scholarships. Fuente inherited a team that had 50. His first offense returned three starters, but that's probably just as well, because the offense was atrocious.

'We had a long way to go from a physical standpoint. The overall health of our squad, from the emotional health to the physical health, it just didn't give us a chance. I felt like if I created a list of things to improve and presented it to the team, it would overwhelm them. And we needed to develop some trust with our kids. We had players who had had different position coaches every year through their time in the program.

'We hired good coaches, tried to bring in guys who I had some familiarity with. I tried to paint as realistic a picture as possible as to what the task was in front of us.'

When painting said "realistic picture," I doubt Fuente was telling prospective assistants, "We're going to move up to a bigger conference, and we're going to win that conference in our third year." Nothing about that sounds realistic. But the Tigers did it anyway.

According to the same SRS ratings, Memphis' 2014 squad was its best since 1983 and its second best since the 1960s. In 2011, Memphis' offense ranked 119th in S&P+, and the defense ranked 117th in S&P+. In 2014, those units ranked 78th and 23rd. The special teams unit was the second-best in the country. Memphis had the second-best field position margin in the country behind TCU; the Tigers tilted the field, pounced on offensive mistakes, and won 10 games for the first time.

Memphis! Memphis did this! The team about which I wrote this in 2011 ...

Talk about bad timing. EXPANSIONAPALOOZA™ got rolling last summer, the Big East is looking at expansion, and look! Memphis is available! Their basketball program is still on solid footing, they've got FedEx money at their disposal ... what could go wrong? Surely they're a strong candidate, right?

Oh. Right.

And this in 2012 ...

When an old stadium is hosting a winning team, it is "historical" and "well-seasoned." When it is two-thirds empty and hosting a depressing team, it is just decrepit.

... won 10 games and the AAC in 2014.

So now what? How do you follow up on this? Thanks to the departure of defensive coordinator Barry Odom and most of the first string from last year's stellar D, Memphis' personality might change. The second era of Fuente's tenure might be much more reliant on offense. The talent is as high as it's been in quite a while, and the depth at the skill positions is intriguing. But one would assume this is a bit of a reloading year.

Still, a potential AAC title game appearance isn't out of reach. Navy visits the Liberty Bowl, and a retooled Houston might not be completely operational yet. Another top-45 F/+ rating might be too much, but Memphis still has expectations that would have seemed patently ridiculous as recently as two years ago.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 41
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Austin Peay NR 63-0 W 91% 31.9 100%
6-Sep at UCLA 12 35-42 L 34% -9.8 31%
20-Sep Middle Tennessee 87 36-17 W 81% 20.6 100%
27-Sep at Ole Miss 5 3-24 L 4% -40.4 0%
4-Oct at Cincinnati 47 41-14 W 87% 26.6 99%
11-Oct Houston 73 24-28 L 40% -6.0 46%
25-Oct at SMU 127 48-10 W 69% 11.5 100%
31-Oct Tulsa 117 40-20 W 64% 8.3 100%
7-Nov at Temple 67 16-13 W 44% -3.3 56%
15-Nov at Tulane 93 38-7 W 65% 9.2 99%
22-Nov South Florida 123 31-20 W 75% 16.1 100%
29-Nov Connecticut 119 41-10 W 69% 11.5 100%
22-Dec vs. BYU 46 55-48 W 66% 9.4 83%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 26.7 78 21.5 23
Points Per Game 36.2 22 19.5 11

2. Two bad quarters

In the first 15 minutes against a UCLA team that won 10 games, Memphis punted twice, allowed a long touchdown drive and a 62-yard touchdown pass, and fell behind, 13-7. In the final 15 minutes against an Ole Miss team that was the best in the country for the first two months of the year, the Tigers got outscored, 17-0. In the other six quarters of those two games, Memphis was outscored by just a 36-31 margin.

Thanks to two quarters, these were the only two games in which the Tigers played beneath a 40th-percentile level. They fell victim to turnovers in an upset loss to Houston, and they needed help from an inept Temple offense to survive a trip to Philadelphia, but they established a high baseline for much of the season, and that baseline only rose.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 53% (yards per play: Opp 5.1, Memphis 5.1)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 5 games): 61% (yards per play: Memphis 5.9, Opp 4.7)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 4 games): 69% (yards per play: Memphis 5.4, Opp 4.5)

The offense was hit-or-miss, but a good defense just got better, even including a 55-48 bowl win.

Of course, that emphasizes how important defense was. We'll see what happens after an offseason of retooling.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.92 31 IsoPPP+ 109.7 45
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.7% 90 Succ. Rt. + 91.1 105
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 26.7 7 Def. FP+ 103.0 33
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.6 44 Redzone S&P+ 97.7 70
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.3 ACTUAL 20 -1.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 49 64 108 45
RUSHING 40 83 120 49
PASSING 57 52 69 50
Standard Downs 70 110 52
Passing Downs 55 90 43
Q1 Rk 59 1st Down Rk 66
Q2 Rk 39 2nd Down Rk 43
Q3 Rk 89 3rd Down Rk 52
Q4 Rk 66

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Paxton Lynch 6'7, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 259 413 3031 22 9 62.7% 15 3.5% 6.8
Jason Stewart 6'3, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7757 3 4 45 1 0 75.0% 1 20.0% 6.6
Clay Holgorsen 6'1, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8201
Brady Davis 6'4, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8451

3. Just a little bit of maturation away

Paxton Lynch's full-season numbers were solid. The big quarterback from Florida, one of Fuente's first commits, combined accuracy (63 percent completion rate, 2.2 percent interception rate, 3.5 percent sack rate) with enough mobility (4.6 yards per non-sack carry) to force defenses to account for him. Considering he was just a sophomore, and considering he wasn't getting a ton of help from the run, it's hard to complain.

The next step for Lynch is moving past mistakes -- he rarely made just one. Against Ole Miss, he went 13-for-31 with a pick and four sacks. Against Houston, he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. And against BYU, he threw three picks (including one of the worst pick sixes you'll ever see) and fumbled twice.

Take out those three games, and his completion rate rises to 66 percent while his interception rate falls to 0.7 percent. Granted, take out any quarterback's worst performances, and his numbers improve, but the difference between these three and the other 10 was stark. His median performance was high, but he was still capable of falling into a rut.

With the Memphis defense likely to regress, Lynch's offense must be consistent. That means more from the run, and that means quicker bouncebacks from Lynch.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Brandon Hayes RB
195 951 5 4.9 5.4 34.9% 1 1
Paxton Lynch QB 6'7, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 98 446 13 4.6 4.0 35.7% 7 4
Sam Craft ATH 6'0, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8220 89 331 3 3.7 2.5 40.4% 1 0
Jarvis Cooper RB 6'1, 250 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8386 75 378 4 5.0 3.9 44.0% 2 2
Doroland Dorceus RB 5'10, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7994 47 237 4 5.0 4.7 42.6% 2 0
Tearris Wallace RB 5'10, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556 14 53 0 3.8 0.9 50.0% 0 0
Mose Frazier WR 5'11, 185 Sr. NR NR 11 68 0 6.2 8.3 36.4% 0 0
Robert Davis RB 5'9, 175 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7906 10 81 1 8.1 8.1 50.0% 0 0
Roderick Proctor WR 5'11, 165 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8153 7 -16 0 -2.3 N/A 0.0% 0 0
Keiwone Malone WR
6 75 0 12.5 10.8 66.7% 3 0
Jason Stewart QB 6'3, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7757 5 35 0 7.0 3.3 60.0% 0 0
Jamarius Henderson RB 5'11, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8451
Darrell Henderson RB 5'9, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059
Mechane Slade RB 5'8, 160 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7973

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Mose Frazier WR 5'11, 185 Sr. NR NR 62 47 506 75.8% 15.5% 58.1% 8.2 -46 8.2 61.1
Keiwone Malone WR
61 46 596 75.4% 15.2% 50.8% 9.8 56 9.7 72.0
Tevin Jones WR 6'2, 218 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 54 33 442 61.1% 13.5% 66.7% 8.2 39 7.8 53.4
Alan Cross TE 6'1, 245 Sr. NR NR 40 28 373 70.0% 10.0% 65.0% 9.3 40 9.6 45.0
Roderick Proctor WR 5'11, 165 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8153 36 27 259 75.0% 9.0% 55.6% 7.2 -59 7.3 31.3
Adrian Henderson WR
35 16 225 45.7% 8.7% 65.7% 6.4 17 6.3 27.2
Phil Mayhue WR 6'3, 205 So. NR 0.7000 28 15 242 53.6% 7.0% 71.4% 8.6 54 8.4 29.2
Sam Craft ATH 6'0, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8220 28 15 83 53.6% 7.0% 50.0% 3.0 -105 3.0 10.0
Brandon Hayes RB
22 16 119 72.7% 5.5% 40.9% 5.4 -70 5.0 14.4
Daniel Montiel TE 6'3, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7585 16 8 124 50.0% 4.0% 68.8% 7.8 22 8.1 15.0
Anthony Miller WR 5'11, 190 So. NR 0.7900
Daniel Hurd WR 6'2, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7600
Robby Young TE 6'4, 255 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333
Tyler Kolodny TE 6'3, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733
Greg McKillion WR 6'5, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8141
Jae'Lon Oglesby WR 5'11, 175 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8950
Tre Hamilton WR 6'3, 197 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8140
Tony Pollard WR 5'11, 196 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8094

4. Got big plays?

The numbers are in Memphis' favor. Leading rusher Brandon Hayes is gone, but every other running back who touched the ball is back, and according to the 247Sports Composite, Memphis signed three three-star freshman backs, including Jamarius Henderson, one of the highest-rated players in Memphis' haul.

Hayes had nice explosiveness but didn't find the open field often; his backups, all freshmen and sophomores in 2014, lacked explosiveness. Memphis now boasts seven former three-stars at RB, and one assumes the potential depth is good enough to produce standouts. But there's plenty to prove.

If the run is semi-strong, the pass could be spectacular. Four of Lynch's top five targets return, and averaged at least 8.2 yards per target. Mose Frazier is one of the nation's better possession receivers, and while the loss of Keiwone Malone, the most explosive in the corps, could hurt, players like Frazier, Tevin Jones, Roderick Proctor, and tight end Alan Cross should assure that Memphis is able to stretch defenses from sideline to sideline.

Fuente landed four-star former Clemson commit Jae'Lon Oglesby in February, along with two other three-stars and a pair of big JUCO options. Sophomore Anthony Miller, injured in 2014, was the star of the spring game.

There is depth and efficiency, and the potential for explosiveness is there. But the big plays are all theoretical; a couple of guys still need to emerge for this offense to improve.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 85.6 2.53 3.32 38.5% 66.0% 21.2% 155.1 2.2% 5.4%
Rank 114 110 60 74 75 94 16 13 35
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Al Bond RT 42 2014 1st All-AAC
Taylor Fallin LT 6'6, 325 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 24
Ryan Mack (Louisville) OL 6'5, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8335 19
Tyler Uselton LG 6'3, 310 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7583 13
Gabe Kuhn C 6'4, 290 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333 13
Nykiren Wellington RT
12
Micah Simmons C 6'3, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8060 8
Michael Stannard RG 6'2, 280 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 7
Tony Mays II RG 6'4, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7957 6
Zach Collins RG 6'4, 285 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7644 2
Sam Thomas RG
1
Christopher Roberson LT 6'7, 325 Jr. NR NR 0
Patrick Winfield LG 6'5, 280 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7633 0
Jace Neville OL 6'6, 275 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7713 0
Tyler Jones OL 6'5, 290 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059
Trevon Tate OL 6'4, 280 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8117
Drew Kyser OL 6'5, 299 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8348

5. Wanted: continuity (and quality)

Thanks in part to a lot of quick passing, Memphis' sack rates were solid. But there were few redeeming stats when it came to Memphis' run game. The line allowed defenders into the backfield with regularity and didn't create enough opportunities to offset that. This put Lynch into uncomfortable down-and-distance situations.

Thanks to a couple of years of shuffling, Memphis finished 2014 with 10 players with starting experience. The Tigers lost three, including all-conference tackle Al Bond, who signed a UDFA deal with the Detroit Lions. But they do return seven more, and they added an eighth in Louisville graduate transfer Ryan Mack, who brings the line's career starts total to 92.

If Mack's presence and less shuffling lead to more opportunities for the backs, and if the backs are capable of taking advantage, the run will produce enough for the pass to thrive. Memphis might have a chance to account for defensive regression.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.78 31 IsoPPP+ 116.3 29
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.4% 10 Succ. Rt. + 103.6 52
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 35.9 2 Off. FP+ 107.9 9
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.7 18 Redzone S&P+ 94.6 87
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 29.6 ACTUAL 31.0 +1.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 28 34 43 29
RUSHING 19 31 25 45
PASSING 63 35 62 24
Standard Downs 34 34 39
Passing Downs 25 65 12
Q1 Rk 63 1st Down Rk 35
Q2 Rk 51 2nd Down Rk 44
Q3 Rk 22 3rd Down Rk 33
Q4 Rk 61

6. Shoes to fill everywhere

In Barry Odom's final season as Memphis' defensive coordinator, his Tiger defense pulled off a rare combination of havoc and big-play prevention. They allowed 48 gains of 20-plus yards (23rd-best in the country) but still recorded 87 tackles for loss (30th) and 70 passes defensed (19th). They defended the run well on standard downs, then used a creative pass rush to pressure the quarterback while preventing big gains on passing downs. They were sound and exciting.

They were also experienced; experienced players run out of eligibility. Gone are two of the top three linemen, three of the top five linebackers, and the top four tacklers in the secondary.

Odom played a lot of players last year, and there are still solid upperclassmen in each unit -- senior end Ricky Hunter, junior end/OLB Jackson Dillon, senior linebacker Leonard Pegues, junior safety Chris Morley, and junior corner Dontrell Nelson have proved themselves. But you will struggle to maintain form when you lose eight starters and your coordinator.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 113 2.49 2.09 30.7% 82.4% 24.4% 80.3 2.6% 8.6%
Rank 23 14 2 6 123 12 98 112 43
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jackson Dillon DAWG 6'6, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7656 13 38.0 5.6% 9.0 3.5 0 2 2 0
Terry Redden NT
13 32.0 4.7% 5.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Martin Ifedi DE
9 27.0 4.0% 9.0 2.0 0 2 0 0
Latarius Brady DE 6'2, 275 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8094 13 23.0 3.4% 1.5 1.0 0 2 1 0
Ricky Hunter DE 6'3, 275 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519 13 16.0 2.3% 7.5 3.5 0 2 0 0
Donald Pennington DT 6'2, 295 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7804 12 13.5 2.0% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Ernest Suttles DE 6'5, 250 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8325 13 11.0 1.6% 4.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Cortez Crosby NT 6'1, 275 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752 13 7.0 1.0% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Kendrick Golden DAWG
6 2.5 0.4% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Isadore Outing DE 6'4, 255 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8169
Mike Edwards DT 6'2, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8081
DeMarco Montgomery DE 6'2, 270 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7694
Jared Gentry DT 6'2, 323 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8348
Emmanuel Cooper DE 6'1, 250 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8156
Peyton Jones DE 6'6, 236 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8038






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Tank Jakes WLB
13 82.0 12.0% 15.5 6.0 1 3 4 0
Charles Harris MLB
13 44.0 6.5% 1.0 0.5 0 2 1 0
Leonard Pegues MLB 5'11, 240 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7500 13 31.5 4.6% 6.0 2.0 0 0 1 0
Noah Robinson LB 6'4, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7882 13 21.5 3.2% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Coleman SLB
10 19.5 2.9% 4.0 1.0 0 2 1 0
Shareef White LB 6'1, 226 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8458 12 16.0 2.3% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Genard Avery LB 6'1, 245 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785 13 16.0 2.3% 6.0 5.0 0 1 0 0
Wynton McManis WLB 6'1, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7500 10 16.0 2.3% 1.5 0.0 0 2 1 0
Derek Howard SLB
6 9.0 1.3% 0.0 0.0 1 0 1 0
Curtis Akins LB 6'2, 210 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8291
Darian Porter LB 6'3, 220 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733
Joseph Prevost LB 6'1, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8216








7. Still some attacking options

The new coordinator isn't exactly new. Galen Scott has spent the last six seasons in Memphis; he was Larry Porter's defensive co-coordinator in 2011, and he was most recently Fuente's linebackers coach and associate head coach. He and Fuente have worked together for quite a few years, and he brings a unique level of both experience and familiarity. Plus, the promotion allowed Fuente to bring on another experienced hand: former Utah State head coach and Tulsa coordinator Brent Guy is the safeties coach.

We'll see how much Scott changes, but if he wants to be retain Odom's front-seven aggressiveness, he'll have plenty of options. Sophomore Ernest Suttles was a three-star recruit and managed to record four tackles for loss in minimal action. Sophomore tackle Cortez Crosby and sophomore linebacker Noah Robinson hinted at disruption, and sophomore linebacker Genard Avery is a potential all-conference missile -- he had only 16 tackles, but five were sacks.

There is a potential depth issue at tackle, but there are a couple intriguing newcomers there, too.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Fritz Etienne SS
13 42.5 6.2% 2 0 3 3 0 0
Bobby McCain CB
13 42.0 6.2% 1 0 5 4 0 1
Bakari Hollier CB
13 37.0 5.4% 1.5 0 1 10 0 0
Andrew Gaines CB
13 35.0 5.1% 1 0 3 6 0 0
Reggis Ball FS 5'11, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) NR 13 31.5 4.6% 0 0 1 0 0 0
DaShaughn Terry DB 6'0, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7889 13 19.0 2.8% 1 0 1 2 1 0
Chris Morley SS 5'11, 192 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7100 10 14.0 2.1% 1 0 0 4 0 0
Dontrell Nelson CB 6'1, 170 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7873 12 8.0 1.2% 2 1 1 2 0 0
Dion Witty DB 5'10, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7600 11 5.5 0.8% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Anthony Young FS 6'0, 195 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7811 7 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Phillip Sumpter DB 5'11, 195 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7894 2 2.0 0.3% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Jamil Collins CB 5'11, 170 So. NR 0.7900
Tyler Charrette DB 6'1, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8159
Arthur Maulet DB 5'11, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059








Ty Northern DB 6'1, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000

8. A blank slate ... sort of

Because of preference and a small handful of injuries, Memphis utilized a deep rotation. Eight linemen, nine linebackers, and eight defensive backs recorded at least 7 tackles (for comparison's sake: UCF, another strong defensive team, had six such linemen, seven linebackers, and eight DBs).

That at least slightly lightens the impact of losing eight starters, and it could make a world of difference in the secondary. Safety Fritz Etienne and three strong corners (Bobby McCain, Bakari Hollier, and Andrew Gaines combined for nine INTs, 20 PBUs, and 3.5 TFLs) are gone, but free safety Reggis Bell return, as do four other experienced juniors and seniors, all of whom made a few plays in limited action.

Plus, to shore up bets a bit, UM signed three JUCO defensive backs as well.

The Memphis defense appears loaded with potential, and there is just enough proven production to suggest that there will be no post-Odom nosedive. The key, of course, is balance: assuming the offense improves, the defense must limit its regression to the level of offensive improvement.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Spencer Smith 6'1, 175 So. 58 40.3 1 27 18 77.6%
Nick Jacobs 6'1, 190 So. 16 33.2 0 8 16 150.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Jake Elliott 5'10, 165 Jr. 87 64.0 50 3 57.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Jake Elliott 5'10, 165 Jr. 57-57 15-16 93.8% 6-16 37.5%
Spencer Smith 6'1, 175 So. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Joe Craig KR 20 22.4 0
Bobby McCain KR 13 25.1 0
Keiwone Malone PR 34 7.7 0
Joe Craig PR 5 21.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 2
Field Goal Efficiency 54
Punt Return Efficiency 6
Kick Return Efficiency 34
Punt Efficiency 5
Kickoff Efficiency 14
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 9

9. Some devastating legs

Good special teams can cover up problems. Some problems might shift from offense to defense, but a fantastic set of legs -- punter Spencer Smith, situational punter Nick Jacobs, and big-legged place-kicker Jake Elliott -- might be able to make sure that a glitchier defense is still working with long fields.

There is a desperate need for return men, which will make it difficult for Memphis to repeat its No. 2 performance in Special Teams Efficiency, but with this kicking game, special teams will still be a strength.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
5-Sep Missouri State NR
12-Sep at Kansas 99
19-Sep at Bowling Green 98
24-Sep Cincinnati 47
2-Oct at South Florida 123
17-Oct Ole Miss 5
23-Oct at Tulsa 117
31-Oct Tulane 93
7-Nov Navy 44
14-Nov at Houston 73
21-Nov at Temple 67
28-Nov SMU 127
Five-Year F/+ Rk -24.5% (104)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 85 / 89
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 11 / 8.3
2014 TO Luck/Game +1.0
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (8, 3)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 10.1 (-0.1)

10. The kings until proven otherwise

When one unit (defense) is superior to the other, then loses nearly three-quarters of its starters and its coordinator, it is pretty easy to assume a stark drop-off. I don't see Memphis replicating last year's No. 41 F/+ ranking in 2015. (2016? Different story.)

But the offense has enough experience, quarterback talent, and skill position depth to believe that improvement can offset a good amount of regression. And with a schedule that features last year's three best opponents (and two best conference opponents) coming to the Liberty Bowl, you can talk yourself into Fuente making a run at the first AAC title game.

Fuente's name got mentioned a lot during the winter coaching carousel, and if he continues to thrive, he will end up coaching a power-conference team soon. But he's back in Memphis for a fourth year, and every good season serves as infrastructure for what happens following his departure. The life of a mid-major is frustrating -- make a good hire, and your reward is having to make another good hire -- but after a brutal slide, Memphis knocked the Fuente hire out of the park.

Make another good choice, and the Tigers' turnaround could be sustained. The recruiting area is fertile, the facilities are improving, and if or when Fuente leaves, he's going to leave a tough, fast, disciplined team behind.

Fuente's not gone yet, though. He should field a team loaded with potential and athleticism, and this offense should be his best since he left TCU. Instead of suffering a post-surge hangover, Memphis has enough talent to play a serious role in the conference title race.