Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
It's amazing what a good hire can do. In 2012 Memphis brought Justin Fuente in to clean up a nasty mess, and he needed just four years to work miracles. The Tigers improved from 3-21 in 2010-11 to 7-17 in 2012-13 to 19-7 in 2014-15.
Fuente inherited a job that few wanted and made it a mid-major destination. When he came to town, Memphis had just averaged 20,078 in home attendance in a stadium that holds more than 60,000 (for now); in 2015, the Tigers averaged 43,802. The Liberty Bowl went from decrepit to quaint, the program from "hard job" to "Hmm, could Memphis make a Big 12 case?"
Fuente: "I felt like the people here, the powers that be, the people who support the program, were ready to jump into this thing with both feet. You've got to have great support; you can't do it yourself. The prominent people here in the community, the university as a whole, everybody has to be on board."
Winning five games in three years forces you figure out what you want to be. With conference realignment in full swing, and some lucrative moves on the table, Memphis decided to try to get its act together.
Contributions and revenue have doubled over the last decade, and while the Liberty Bowl will never be a new facility, everything about the program seems to have been freshened up a bit.
Now comes the biggest test. When you make a great hire at the mid-major level, your reward is having to make another one. Fuente gave Memphis a fourth year even though he had suitors following his 2014 breakthrough; that allowed the program an extra year of building infrastructure and showing fans a quality product. But he left to succeed Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech this offseason, and after waiting to see if Fuente's former defensive coordinator Barry Odom was available -- he became Missouri's head coach instead -- the program honed in on another up-and-comer: Mike Norvell.
Norvell had spent enough time under Todd Graham that it was easy to forget about him. He moved from graduate assistant to receivers coach/passing game coordinator for Graham at Tulsa, served as offensive co-coordinator in Graham's lone season at Pitt, then took over as sole coordinator in four years at Arizona State.
Over the last three years, Norvell proved adaptable and resourceful. ASU ranked 13th in Off. S&P+ in 2013, maintained a solid No. 27 ranking in 2014 despite quarterback injuries, then held steady at 31st despite turnover last fall. The Sun Devils were disappointing in 2015, but it was mostly because of defensive regression.
On paper, hiring Norvell makes a ton of sense. He is a Central Arkansas grad, and he spent four years at nearby AAC rival Tulsa. He knows the region, and he's spent nine seasons under a pretty good teacher in Graham. And he inherits an infinitely better situation than Fuente did. If he is able to maintain Fuente's breakthrough, and if the basketball program is able to regain its footing, then Memphis could be positioned to either become one of the strongest programs in the mid-major universe or make itself relatively attractive if the Big 12 ever actually decides to expand instead of hemming and hawing about it on a yearly basis.
Making a good hire changes so much for your program. Making two in a row can change even more. No pressure, Coach Norvell.
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 41 | Final S&P+ Rk: 55|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|19-Sep||at Bowling Green||25||44-41||W||53%||33%||-2.6||0.0|
|2-Oct||at South Florida||44||24-17||W||78%||86%||-3.4||-2.0|
|Points Per Game||40.2||11||27.3||67|
2. The road got bumpy
In the end, 9-4 almost felt disappointing. Memphis won its final seven games of 2014 and began 2015 with eight more victories. Following road wins over Bowling Green and USF and a 13-point romp over a fantastic (though banged-up at the time) Ole Miss team, the Tigers reached 15th in the AP poll.
For one reason or another, though, the Tigers faltered down the stretch.
- First 8 games:
Average percentile performance: 72% (~top 35) | Record: 8-0
- Last 5 games:
Average percentile performance: 39% (~top 80) | Record: 1-4
The Tigers still played well enough to nearly beat Houston on the road -- they took a 34-14 lead early in the fourth quarter before allowing an unlikely three-touchdown comeback -- and put together an almost perfect performance in humiliating SMU. But in between, they got thumped at home by Navy and on the road by Temple; then, with Fuente out the door, they were horrible against Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl. After posting a strong 146.6 passer rating against Ole Miss in October, quarterback Paxton Lynch finished his career with just a 62.4 against a lesser Auburn defense.
The season's finish was disappointing and undid some of the incredible gains of the 15-game winning streak, but Memphis still finished the season 55th in S&P+, only a slight step down from the No. 49 finish in 2014. And while Lynch, the 26th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, is gone and both the offensive line and receiving corps got thinned out a bit by graduation, most of the defense is back, as are the top four running backs.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.4%||34||Succ. Rt. +||102.9||61|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||26.3||7||Def. FP+||28.1||40|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.0||21||Redzone S&P+||105.2||53|
|Q1 Rk||46||1st Down Rk||51|
|Q2 Rk||45||2nd Down Rk||44|
|Q3 Rk||39||3rd Down Rk||50|
3. A Norvell-Long defense
Todd Graham, Norvell's primary mentor, is an aggressive coach. He attacks your tendencies and deficiencies and tries to put as much speed as possible on the field.
"Everything we do is designed to attack what the opponent is being taught. For example, look at what Gus does and what we do offensively. [When they line up], the primary key will tell the defender that the ball's getting run to the left. Instead, it's getting thrown to the right. [...]
"Our offense, defense, and special teams have to match and blend on each other. Our offensive coordinator doesn't get to come in and do whatever he wants to do. We adapt to our philosophy, the talents of the players, and what they can execute. We're an attacking offense and an attacking defense."
Every coach is his own person, but you have to figure that, since Norvell stayed with Graham for a decade, he probably shares quite a few of the same football values.
Norvell's new offensive coordinator Chip Long also comes from the Graham coaching tree; he spent four seasons as Graham's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at ASU. He also studied under Bobby Petrino for two years at Louisville and two at Arkansas. That's a pretty good offensive pedigree.
Norvell's ASU offense operated at a tempo fast for even the Pac-12, spread opponents out pretty well, and passed to set up the run. The footprint was quite similar to Memphis' in 2015, actually, and it should fit in just fine in the AAC. The question for 2016 is pretty simple: Do the Tigers have a quarterback they trust to pass the ball?
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Jason Stewart||6'3, 205||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7757|
|Brady Davis||6'4, 205||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8451|
|Riley Ferguson||6'4, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8848|
|David Moore||6'2, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8463|
|Doroland Dorceus||RB||5'10, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7994||155||659||8||4.3||3.3||37.4%||4||2|
|Jarvis Cooper||RB||6'1, 245||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8386||91||389||5||4.3||2.7||35.2%||0||0|
|Sam Craft||RB||6'0, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8220||82||333||5||4.1||4.0||36.6%||2||1|
|Jamarius Henderson||RB||5'11, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8451||60||320||4||5.3||5.0||43.3%||2||2|
|Anthony Miller||WR||5'11, 190||Jr.||NR||0.7900||9||54||2||6.0||3.5||55.6%||1||0|
|Tearris Wallace||RB||5'10, 220||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7556||7||31||0||4.4||2.7||42.9%||0||0|
|Mechane Slade||ATH||5'8, 165||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7973|
|Darrell Henderson||RB||5'9, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8059|
|Patrick Taylor, Jr.||RB||6'3, 216||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8043|
4. The shaky state of the backfield
The passing game masked a pretty significant weakness for Memphis in 2015: The Tigers couldn't really run the ball. They ranked 96th in Rushing S&P+, with four running backs posting average efficiency numbers with almost no big-play presence whatsoever. They managed only four rushes of 30-plus yards all season; only nine FBS offenses had fewer.
All four of last year's backs return, for better or worse. Senior Sam Craft (a part-time receiver) and juniors Doroland Dorecus and Jarvis Cooper have all hinted at solid efficiency numbers (all three had an opportunity rate over 40 percent in 2014) but none have a history of explosiveness. [Update: Cooper intends to transfer, and is no longer listed on the team's roster.] Sophomore Jamarius Henderson showed big-play flashes against Kansas (11 carries, 77 yards) and Tulsa (14 carries, 112 yards) but carried only 35 times for 131 yards the rest of the season.
Unless Henderson breaks out, the backfield might be about the same in 2016. And the line has to replace all-conference tackle Taylor Fallin, plus four others who accounted for a combined 11 starts. So it's not a guarantee that the run game will improve. That could put pressure on a new quarterback to thrive.
Barring something unforeseen, it appears that new quarterback will be Riley Ferguson. The former Tennessee signee spent 2015 at Coffeyville Community College and completed 68 percent with 35 touchdowns to six interceptions. He was 15-for-20 for 172 yards and three scores in Memphis' spring game. He's passing every test he can, but the real tests begin this fall.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Phil Mayhue||WR||6'3, 210||Jr.||NR||0.7000||79||51||670||64.6%||17.5%||8.5||65.8%||54.4%||1.40|
|Anthony Miller||WR||5'11, 190||Jr.||NR||0.7900||66||47||694||71.2%||14.6%||10.5||62.1%||54.5%||1.74|
|Roderick Proctor||WR||5'11, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8153||29||25||335||86.2%||6.4%||11.6||58.6%||58.6%||1.79|
|Jae'Lon Oglesby||WR||5'11, 175||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8950||25||20||167||80.0%||5.5%||6.7||60.0%||44.0%||1.40|
|Doroland Dorceus||RB||5'10, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7994||17||11||217||64.7%||3.8%||12.8||41.2%||52.9%||2.40|
|Daniel Montiel||TE||6'3, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7585||14||10||155||71.4%||3.1%||11.1||85.7%||64.3%||1.67|
|Sam Craft||RB||6'0, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8220||14||8||114||57.1%||3.1%||8.1||57.1%||28.6%||2.96|
|Jamarius Henderson||RB||5'11, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8451||8||7||90||87.5%||1.8%||11.3||50.0%||62.5%||1.89|
|Daniel Hurd||WR||6'2, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7600||7||5||84||71.4%||1.5%||12.0||71.4%||71.4%||0.88|
|Jarvis Cooper||RB||6'1, 245||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8386||4||3||29||75.0%||0.9%||7.3||25.0%||75.0%||0.69|
|Robby Young||TE||6'4, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7333|
|Tony Pollard||WR||5'11, 200||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8094|
|Pop Williams||WR||5'9, 165||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8288|
|Jahod Booker||WR||5'11, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8075|
5. A loaded receiving corps
As long as the running game isn't a liability, forcing lots of second- and third-and-long passing, Ferguson should enjoy the weapons he has lined up wide.
Juniors Phil Mayhue, Anthony Miller, and Roderick Proctor all posted fantastic catch and success rates in 2015 (while averaging a strong 13.8 yards per catch), and sophomore Jae'Lon Oglesby is a former four-star recruit. Proctor caught an incredible 25 of 29 passes before missing the final three games of the year. Miller, meanwhile, caught fire midseason, catching five passes for 156 yards against Cincinnati, 10 for 132 against Ole Miss, and five for 106 against Tulsa.
Craft is a versatile weapon, as well. Go-to guy Mose Frazier is gone, but depth was the strength of the 2015 receiving corps, and a lot of it is back. Despite the new QB, the run game has a lot more to prove than the passing game.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Taylor Fallin||LT||11||35||2015 1st All-AAC|
|Gabe Kuhn||RG||6'4, 295||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7333||12||25|
|Drew Kyser||C||6'5, 300||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8348||12||12|
|Trevon Tate||RT||6'4, 280||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8117||10||10|
|Christopher Roberson||LG||6'7, 330||Sr.||NR||NR||9||9|
|Zach Collins||OL||6'4, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7644||0||2|
|Jace Neville||LT||6'6, 290||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7713||0||0|
|Lio Lafaele||OL||6'4, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8656|
|Harneet Gill||OL||6'7, 265||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8093|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.8%||81||Succ. Rt. +||101.9||56|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.0||44||Off. FP+||29.0||90|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.0||112||Redzone S&P+||101.5||66|
|Q1 Rk||53||1st Down Rk||46|
|Q2 Rk||30||2nd Down Rk||82|
|Q3 Rk||66||3rd Down Rk||66|
6. A Chris Ball defense
Memphis will be Arizona State East in 2016. New defensive coordinator Chris Ball also accompanies Norvell east after spending four seasons as Graham's defensive co-coordinator and DBs coach.
One assumes, then, that Memphis will attack as much as ASU did last year. The Tigers had to replace a lot of pieces last year -- half their front seven, every starter in the secondary, and the defensive coordinator -- and lost their identity a bit. They attacked the run pretty well and stiffened in short yardage, but they allowed 48 passes of 20-plus yards, 101st in the country. That was perhaps predictable.
Experience won't be an issue this time around. Seven of eight primary defensive linemen, five of seven linebackers, and four of the top five defensive backs all return. The starting lineup could be junior- and senior-heavy, and Ball might have everything he needs to attack, attack, attack.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Donald Pennington||DT||6'2, 295||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7804||13||30.0||4.1%||5.0||2.0||0||1||1||0|
|DeMarco Montgomery||DE||6'3, 245||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7694||12||23.0||3.1%||5.5||2.0||0||0||0||1|
|Christian Johnson||DE||6'5, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7683||13||20.0||2.7%||6.5||4.0||0||1||0||0|
|Michael Edwards||DT||6'2, 295||Sr.||NR||NR||13||15.0||2.0%||2.0||0.5||0||0||1||0|
|Ernest Suttles||DE||6'5, 265||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8325||12||14.0||1.9%||2.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Latarius Brady||DE||6'2, 280||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8094||13||10.5||1.4%||2.0||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Jared Gentry||DT||6'2, 325||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8348||11||7.5||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Cortez Crosby||DT||6'1, 270||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7752||7||3.0||0.4%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Isadore Outing||DE||6'4, 265||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8169|
|Emmanuel Cooper||DE||6'1, 275||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8156|
|Peyton Jones||DE||6'6, 235||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8038|
|John Tate||DE||6'4, 258||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8646|
|Jacoby Hill||DE||6'3, 211||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7991|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Shareef White||WLB||6'1, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8458||13||57.0||7.8%||7.0||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Genard Avery||LB||6'1, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7785||11||47.5||6.5%||6.5||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jackson Dillon||SLB||6'6, 245||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7656||13||30.5||4.1%||6.0||0.0||0||0||0||1|
|Noah Robinson||LB||6'4, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7882||12||20.5||2.8%||0.0||0.0||0||3||1||0|
|Curtis Akins||MLB||6'2, 230||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8291||8||12.0||1.6%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Lenard Harden||WLB||5'11, 205||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7633||13||4.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Darian Porter||SLB||6'3, 230||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7733|
|Joseph Prevost||LB||6'1, 220||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8216|
|Tim Hart||LB||6'1, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8578|
|Nehemiah Augustus||LB||6'0, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8366|
7. The line is still loaded
At Arizona State in 2015, opponents threw non-stop because while the Sun Devils' run defense was as strong as ever, the pass defense was a sieve despite a decent pass rush. It was basically an extreme version of the problem Memphis faced: The Tigers ranked 48th in Rushing S&P+ but 92nd in Passing S&P+.
While the pass defense still has something to prove, the run defense should expect to improve further. Fuente and Norvell signed a few exciting young prospects in the last two recruiting classes, but they'll probably have to wait their turn behidn the hierarchy of DeMarco Montgomery, Christian Johnson, Ernest Suttles, and Latarius Brady at end and Donald Pennington, Michael Edwards, and monstrous sophomore Jared Gentry at tackle. And it could be the same story at linebacker, where Shareef White (a great run defender), Genard Avery, Jackson Dillon, and Noah Robinson all return.
The Memphis defense benefited a bit from injuries luck in 2015 -- only one regular (linebacker Curtis Akins) missed serious time -- and that can usually result in regression the next year. But there are enough experienced pieces here that it appears Memphis could withstand some injuries without massive drop-off. The secondary is less of a guarantee in this regard, but I have very few concerns about the front six/seven.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dontrell Nelson||CB||6'1, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7873||13||44.5||6.1%||1||1||2||1||0||0|
|Chris Morley||SS||5'11, 195||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7100||13||41.5||5.6%||1||0||1||4||0||0|
|Chauncey Lanier||CB||5'10, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7300||13||36.5||5.0%||2||1||0||5||1||0|
|Arthur Maulet||CB||5'11, 190||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8059||13||36.5||5.0%||0||0||2||7||0||1|
|Jamil Collins||CB||5'11, 170||Jr.||NR||0.7900||11||6.5||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Phillip Sumpter||DB||5'11, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7894||12||6.0||0.8%||3||2||0||0||0||0|
|Ty Northern||DB||6'1, 190||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||12||4.5||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler Charrette||DB||6'1, 220||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8159|
|Kam Prewitt||DB||5'11, 175||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7892|
|Anthony Young||DB||6'0, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7811|
|Shaun Rupert (Missouri)||S||6'1, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8084|
|Jonathan Cook||S||6'0, 198||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8126|
|Josh Perry||CB||6'3, 183||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8578|
|Tyrez Lindsey||S||6'2, 187||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8202|
|Thomas Pickens||S||6'2, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8128|
|Jacobi Francis||CB||5'9, 160||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7954|
8. Fewer big plays would be great
The pass defense had its moments in 2015. Against SW Missouri State, Kansas, Tulane, and SMU, Memphis allowed just a 45 percent completion rate and an 82.7 passer rating. But none of those teams could actually pass. Against teams with some level of offensive competence, the pass defense wilted: Memphis allowed a 62 percent completion rate and 155.8 passer rating in the other nine games. The pass rush could have helped out a bit more, but a rearranged secondary just couldn't get the job done.
Again, experience won't be an issue, particularly at cornerback. Seniors Dontrell Nelson, Chauncey Lanier, and Arthur Maulet are all small but athletic and got their hands on some passes last year. And strong safety Chris Morley has been around as well. Volatile play-maker Reggis Ball is gone, as are part-time contributors Dion Witty and DaShaughn Terry, so safety could be an issue.
The list of potential breakthrough candidates at both corner and safety is pretty long, though: junior Phillip Sumpter, sophomore spring star Kam Prewitt, former Alabama cornerback Jonathan Cook, former Missouri safety Shaun Rupert, mid-three-star freshman Josh Perry, etc. This unit has depth in terms of athleticism; we'll just see if it can avoid breakdowns a little bit better than last year's unit.
|Spencer Smith||6'1, 195||Jr.||43||47.1||4||11||8||44.2%|
|Nick Jacobs||6'1, 195||Jr.||14||36.0||3||6||11||121.4%|
|Jake Elliott||5'10, 165||Sr.||99||64.4||74||3||74.7%|
|Jake Elliott||5'10, 165||Sr.||63-63||13-17||76.5%||10-11||90.9%|
|Jae'Lon Oglesby||KR||5'11, 175||So.||25||23.5||0|
|Sam Craft||KR||6'0, 210||Sr.||11||19.8||0|
|Roderick Proctor||PR||5'11, 175||Jr.||19||7.4||1|
|Special Teams S&P+||6|
|Field Goal Efficiency||19|
|Punt Return Success Rate||31|
|Kick Return Success Rate||73|
|Punt Success Rate||31|
|Kickoff Success Rate||2|
9. Special teams is the least of Memphis' concerns
It would be a surprise if Memphis didn't again have one of the best special teams units in the AAC. Spencer Smith's got a spectacular punting leg (even if he outkicks coverage from time to time), Jake Elliott's touchback rate on kickoffs was one of the highest in the country, Roderick Proctor is a steady punt returner, and Jae'Lon Oglesby is an explosive, if not incredibly efficient, kick returner. Elliott was a bit scattershot on field goal attempts, but he offset a subpar 77 percent on field goals under 40 yards by making 91 percent of his longer field goals. Lots to like here.
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|3-Sep||SE Missouri State||NR||25.2||93%|
|1-Oct||at Ole Miss||7||-22.4||10%|
|Projected wins: 6.5|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-11.1% (85)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||74 / 88|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||8 / 2.6|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+2.1|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||54% (40%, 68%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||7.6 (1.4)|
10. Start fast
Memphis is projected a conservative 77th in S&P+, primarily because of the loss of Lynch and (to a lesser degree) Mose Frazier. The defense might have the pieces to rebound after falling from 23rd to 73rd in Def. S&P+, and if Riley Ferguson really is the answer at QB, the Tigers' ceiling gets a lot higher.
Taking the projection as it stands, though, it creates a metric ton of tossups. Memphis is given between a 39 and 57 percent chance of winning in seven games -- par for the course in the increasingly parity-driven AAC -- with four likely wins and one likely loss.
There could be plenty of plot twists here, especially late in the season (five of the final six games fall into this tossup range), but if Norvell can get things situated out of the gates, a good season is likely. In the first half of the season come three likely wins and two tossups: visits from retooling Bowling Green (whom I don't like as much as its projection) and Temple. A 5-1 start is conceivable, but 3-3 isn't off the table. The former would ignite an AAC title run, the latter would cause a scramble for a bowl bid.
Because of the job Fuente did, Norvell doesn't have to be as much of a home run hire. But he has his work cut out for him in attempting to maintain a program with actual expectations and faint hopes for a conference upgrade.