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Daily Helmsman sports staff discusses next season's football schedule

<p>Mike Norvell leads his Tigers onto the field prior to their game against</p>
<p>Kansas. Norvell helped the Tigers go 10-3 in the 2017-18 season.</p>
Mike Norvell leads his Tigers onto the field prior to their game against Kansas. Norvell helped the Tigers go 10-3 in the 2017-18 season.

The 2018 schedule for the University of Memphis football team was released Tuesday, and the Tigers have seven games at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The Daily Helmsman sports staff of sports editor Jeremiah Graham and sports reporters Abigail Warren, Caleb Hilliard and Patrick Graziosi gathered to discuss the schedule release and make early predictions for the season.


1. Which games are you looking forward to next season?


Abigail Warren: I’ll say the Navy game because that will be their first test and first conference opponent. After this game, we’ll have a vision for what the rest of the season holds.

Caleb Hilliard: I am interested in the out-of-conference games versus Missouri and South Alabama. The matchup with Mizzou could allow the Tigers to make another statement on national television. South Alabama is a tough matchup because they are well coached defensively, and their schemes could create issues for the Memphis offense.

Jeremiah Graham: The Navy game during week two will be the one I’m looking forward to seeing. To piggyback off Abigail’s point, this will be an early season test, and after this game, we will get a good sense of how they’ll look the rest of the season.

Patrick Graziosi: If Memphis aspires to return to the American Athletic Conference Championship game, then they need to beat rivals UCF and Houston. Luckily for the Tigers, they will play host to both on Oct. 13 and Nov. 23, respectively. 


2. Who do you think will give the Tigers their toughest matchup?


Abigail: Missouri because they are going to be coming off the Alabama game, and they’re going to bring their A game. This will be a tough road test in a big SEC environment.

Caleb: The matchup with Missouri could be Memphis’ toughest game of the season. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock is returning for his final season after logging a NCAA-high 44 passing touchdowns in 2017. Lock will be the most talented player Memphis faces in 2018, and he will create a tactical challenge for Chris Ball and the Memphis defense.

Jeremiah: I was going back and forth between Missouri and Navy, but I’ll go with Missouri. That high-powered offense with Lock at the helm will be the biggest challenge for that young Tigers secondary.

Patrick: The toughest matchup is the Sep. 8 game at Navy. Will Coach Norvell have his Tigers ready to face the unorthodox Midshipmen so early in the season? A win here could spur the Tigers to a 6-0 start before the UCF game. 


3. Who do you see starting at quarterback?


Abigail: I think Brady White. After already having two quarterbacks on the roster, Norvell still brought him in. The other guys could prove themselves, but White is the frontrunner.

Caleb: Graduate-transfer Brady White has the skill-set to start at quarterback for Memphis in the 2018-19 season. White will have to compete for the job in spring practice, and I believe he will be named the starter during the summer.

Jeremiah: Brady White should get the job. He’s already familiar with Norvell because of his days at Arizona State, but he also has the biggest upside. He stands strong in the pocket, has a great arm and puts great touch on the ball. He’s the one on the roster most likely to go pro at that position.

Patrick: Brady White, an Arizona State graduate-transfer and former top-100 national recruit, has the pedigree and a familiarity with Norvell and others on staff. Coming out of high school, White was a higher rated prospect than recent Tiger greats Paxton Lynch and Riley Ferguson.


4. Which player do you think will make the biggest improvement?


Abigail: I can see Darrell Henderson putting up big numbers now that the Ferguson-Miller duo is gone. I also think it will be exciting to see Tony Pollard. Pollard came close to breaking the NCAA kick return touchdown record for a single season, and he could break the career kick returns for touchdowns record during his time at Memphis.

Caleb: After an unremarkable 2016-17 season, I think tight end Joey Magnifico will have the most improved season. Last season, Magnifico never found his place in the Tigers’ offense, but he will receive an increased workload in the upcoming season.

Jeremiah: Tony Pollard will have a breakout season offensively. We have already gotten a chance to see what he brings to the table in the return game, but as the season progressed, he got more snaps at tailback and in the slot. I think he will be the Tigers’ go-to weapon offensively.

Patrick: Tony Pollard for sure. Hear me out, how can an All-American kick returner on special teams possibly improve? By being featured more on offense. With 34 receptions, Pollard is the Tigers leading wide receiver going into next season. A high-powered offense will need someone to help replace Anthony Miller’s production, and Pollard will help.


5. What record will the Tigers finish with next season?


Abigail: I think they will go 10-2. They lost a lot of key players from last season’s roster, and I don’t know if this team will gel quite as well.

Caleb: After finishing last season in record fashion, the 2018-19 season will hold a different outcome. The Tiger’s do not have a tough schedule, but the absence of players like Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller will take a toll on the Tiger’s for the upcoming season. With that being said, I predict Memphis will win eight games.

Jeremiah: After taking a good look at the schedule, I see this team winning somewhere around nine games. The road matchup against Navy and the road game against Missouri are the two games that cause the most concern for me, but other than that, the rest of the schedule looks winnable.

Patrick: The U of M has a legitimate NCAA Division 1 football program, and retaining head coach Mike Norvell means continued success. The floor for this team is a 9-3 regular season.

Head coach Mike Norvell leads the Tigers onto the field before a game last season. This year, the team hopes to rebuild the offense quarterback Riley Ferguson and star wide receiver Anthony Miller left holes in.

Jeremiah Graham

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