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Memphis has a new football coach and a brand new level of expectation in 2016

Justin Fuente is gone, and he's raised the bar for new coach Mike Norvell.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

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.

1. Transition

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?"

Memphis' resurrection went beyond Fuente, though.

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.

2015 Schedule & Results

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
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Missouri State N/A 63-7 W 94% 100% +38.9
12-Sep at Kansas 127 55-23 W 79% 100% +19.9 +18.5
19-Sep at Bowling Green 25 44-41 W 53% 33% -2.6 0.0
24-Sep Cincinnati 72 53-46 W 48% 45% -1.6 -3.0
2-Oct at South Florida 44 24-17 W 78% 86% -3.4 -2.0
17-Oct Ole Miss 5 37-24 W 70% 56% +21.6 +23.5
23-Oct at Tulsa 95 66-42 W 69% 90% +16.2 +13.5
31-Oct Tulane 119 41-13 W 88% 100% +1.5 -4.0
7-Nov Navy 21 20-45 L 14% 0% -28.5 -32.5
14-Nov at Houston 26 34-35 L 62% 52% +3.5 +6.0
21-Nov at Temple 45 12-31 L 14% 1% -19.1 -20.5
28-Nov SMU 106 63-0 W 98% 100% +42.7 +41.5
30-Dec vs. Auburn 33 10-31 L 5% 0% -24.5 -18.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 35.1 27 29.3 73
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.31 43 IsoPPP+ 108.1 42
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.9 ACTUAL 14 -3.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 18 44 61 42
RUSHING 55 96 83 103
PASSING 18 28 44 28
Standard Downs 41 61 34
Passing Downs 51 61 61
Q1 Rk 46 1st Down Rk 51
Q2 Rk 45 2nd Down Rk 44
Q3 Rk 39 3rd Down Rk 50
Q4 Rk 88

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?

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Paxton Lynch 296 444 3778 28 4 66.7% 17 3.7% 7.9
Clay Holgorsen 14 20 177 1 1 70.0% 0 0.0% 8.9
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

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
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
Paxton Lynch QB 70 358 2 5.1 3.4 41.4% 0 0
Jamarius Henderson RB 5'11, 210 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8451 60 320 4 5.3 5.0 43.3% 2 2
Mose Frazier WR 17 119 2 7.0 16.1 29.4% 3 1
Darius Lee RB 10 34 0 3.4 2.1 40.0% 0 0
Anthony Miller WR 5'11, 190 Jr. NR 0.7900 9 54 2 6.0 3.5 55.6% 1 0
Tevin Jones WR 9 45 1 5.0 6.0 44.4% 1 1
Robert Davis RB 9 42 0 4.7 7.8 33.3% 0 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.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Mose Frazier WR 95 71 833 74.7% 21.0% 8.8 63.2% 50.5% 1.61
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
Tevin Jones WR 41 22 316 53.7% 9.1% 7.7 56.1% 43.9% 1.69
Alan Cross TE 41 25 229 61.0% 9.1% 5.6 68.3% 43.9% 1.20
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
Frank Wims WR
4 3 57 75.0% 0.9% 14.3 100.0% 75.0% 2.08
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.

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 94.9 2.71 3.42 38.2% 72.0% 20.1% 145.8 1.6% 6.9%
Rank 98 96 47 78 32 82 28 8 56
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
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
Ryan Mack RT 3 22
Tyler Uselton LG 5 18
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
Micah Simmons RG 2 10
Christopher Roberson LG 6'7, 330 Sr. NR NR 9 9
Michael Stannard C
1 8
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


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.29 82 IsoPPP+ 96.8 76
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.5 ACTUAL 22.0 +1.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 77 74 56 76
RUSHING 38 48 57 40
PASSING 106 92 64 100
Standard Downs 83 56 89
Passing Downs 57 64 50
Q1 Rk 53 1st Down Rk 46
Q2 Rk 30 2nd Down Rk 82
Q3 Rk 66 3rd Down Rk 66
Q4 Rk 47

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.

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 109.8 2.56 3.22 36.0% 46.9% 22.0% 93.9 4.7% 6.3%
Rank 33 20 64 39 3 40 76 76 86
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
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
Ricky Hunter DE 12 20.0 2.7% 3.5 2.0 0 1 1 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








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Leonard Pegues MLB 12 62.5 8.5% 7.0 1.0 1 0 1 1
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
Wynton McManis SLB 13 57.0 7.8% 5.5 2.5 0 0 0 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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Reggis Ball FS 13 50.5 6.9% 2.5 0 5 5 0 1
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
Dion Witty FS 10 28.5 3.9% 1.5 0 1 5 1 0
DaShaughn Terry SS
13 21.5 2.9% 0 0 0 2 0 0
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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
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%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Jake Elliott 5'10, 165 Sr. 99 64.4 74 3 74.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Jake Elliott 5'10, 165 Sr. 63-63 13-17 76.5% 10-11 90.9%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
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
Mose Frazier PR 4 7.0 0
Category Rk
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.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep SE Missouri State NR 25.2 93%
17-Sep Kansas 112 16.0 82%
24-Sep Bowling Green 60 0.2 50%
1-Oct at Ole Miss 7 -22.4 10%
6-Oct Temple 61 0.4 51%
14-Oct at Tulane 122 11.2 74%
22-Oct at Navy 66 -5.9 37%
29-Oct Tulsa 93 8.5 69%
5-Nov at SMU 98 3.2 57%
12-Nov South Florida 41 -3.7 42%
18-Nov at Cincinnati 70 -4.9 39%
25-Nov Houston 53 -0.8 48%
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.