The traces of last season have started to settle into the history books as Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard and Trevon Tate await their NFL Draft results.
Preparations for next season have begun, and the 2019 season could be much better than last year after looking at the University of Memphis football program’s tendencies.
During the Mike Norvell era, the Tigers have had good expectations each year, and they have either exceeded them or fallen short. Norvell went 26-14 after three seasons. Justin Fuente went to Virginia Tech in 2016, and Norvell took the head coach position and posted an 8-5 record in his first year, raising the bar.
In 2017, Norvell and the Tigers won the West Division of the American Athletic Conference and finished with a 10-3 record. The 2017 season raised the hope for the 2018 season. However, the Tigers went 8-6 and lowered the excitement around the program, but it should only be temporary.
Paxton Lynch and Riley Ferguson shared one thing in common. They both had a buffer season and had drastically better performances in later seasons statistically. Lynch started all 12 games after redshirting his first season. Lynch completed 58.2 percent of his passes and 2,056 passing yards. He threw for nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. For his second year, he completed 62.7 percent of his passes and passed for 3,031 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Ferguson arrived at UofM with two years of football left and passed for 3,698 yards and had 32 touchdowns and threw 10 interceptions. His last year at Memphis, he passed for 4,257 yards and had 38 touchdowns and nine picks. Ferguson’s passer rating increased nearly 10 points his second year.
Brady White’s arrival last season struck Memphis as a blessing, and it was understandable. While at Arizona State, Norvell recruited White. White was highly sought after by other Power Five conferences. Memphis needed a quarterback after Ferguson left. It all made sense, and the hype was on display.
The hype was nearly eradicated after the Tulane game, and at times, the hope returned after seeing glimpses of momentum. The Memphis fanbase was spoiled with past quarterbacks, and as the season went on, they had little empathy for White. The thought that David Moore should have won the quarterback battle and started in the season opener against Mercer emerged as a dark cloud. White quickly became the target for the Tigers’ problems.
Ferguson and Lynch had their buffer years, and White had his. White should have a much better year, and the Tigers should return to a more balanced run-pass offense. The buffer season has passed, and a bright future is ahead.
Henderson and Pollard left early, and the names of the season ticket holders will be different. The expected rushers should be Kenneth Gainwell and Patrick Taylor Jr. The rushing offense should still be anticipated, and those watching need to look for it. The rushing yards will be scored, and the fireworks will explode at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Memphis was ranked 66th by 247Sports and was the third highest ranked group-of-five school. Boise State was ranked No. 50, and UCF was ranked No. 57. Memphis has the second-highest ranked recruiting class in the American conference.
Memphis is scheduled to play Ole Miss in the season opener at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. This game should excite both programs after what has occurred in the past between these two teams. Ole Miss is not going to be ranked like they were the last time they arrived in Memphis. The Ole Miss program has witnessed better seasons, but the two-year postseason ban has diminished potential. The ban has been lifted, and the Rebels will not want to start the new season with a loss. The Tigers hold much pride in this rivalry, and this could likely result in the Tigers snatching a win.
Memphis will play three other non-conference opponents: Southern, UL-Monroe and South Alabama. Good showings should be a win in the books and a strong boost for the Tigers.
Memphis and UCF will are not scheduled to meet again for the next two seasons. The only likely way the Tigers and Knights could meet is if both teams won their division and met in the American Athletic Conference Championship game for the third straight year. Norvell received four losses from a UCF team during his time at Memphis.
The Tigers will are no longer set to play UCONN, ECU and UCF, but they gain USF, Cincinnati and Temple. Memphis is scheduled to play a high achieving Cincinnati team in the final game at the Liberty Bowl in the upcoming season. The Bearcats are assumed to be the team with the best chance of knocking out UCF during the regular season. If the Bearcats dismount the Knights, then the Tigers will have distinguished work cut out for them. USF and Temple have achieved more than ECU and UConn have so they will be a much more impressive opponent and a much more dignified win if Memphis can capitalize.
Temple lost to Cincinnati and UCF and no other conference opponent last season. USF went on a seven-game winning streak and earned a ranking before their starting quarterback was injured and lost every remaining game after that.
Cincinnati and USF are scheduled to play Memphis in November and Temple in October. All teams including Memphis could have major changes in the lineup, and injuries are near impossible to predict.
Overall, the Tigers are set to play another season of football, and it should exceed last year’s results. The Tigers should do well in their first five games against Ole Miss, Southern, South Alabama, Navy and ULM. I would predict they could finish their first five games either 5-0 or 4-1 with a potential loss from Ole Miss and a 1-0 conference start to the season.
The rest of the schedule is conference opponents and winning out will not be easy. The Tigers could finish the regular with nine wins. Losses are coming from Cincinnati, Ole Miss and Temple. That being said, I expect the Tigers to win the West Division. I do not think any team in the West should give the Tigers more of a struggle than Cincinnati. If Cincinnati wins out, there will likely be a rematch between the Tigers and the Bearcats. Whichever team won the regular season match won’t win the conference title. As for a bowl game, your guess is as good as mine.