One of the most interesting things to monitor in college football is how coaches do when the past recruits leave. Justin Fuente left Memphis in tremendous shape after Paxton Lynch’s departure when he courted Tennessee transfer Riley Ferguson. New head coach Mike Norvell sealed the deal and Ferguson went on to have two brilliant seasons with the Tigers. Now, he’s gone. Not only that, but superstar receiver Anthony Miller is also in the NFL. The task for Norvell got a lot tougher.
That’s not to say that Memphis will bottom out. After all, the Tigers have won 37 games over the last four seasons, despite a 1-3 record in bowl games. It just means that Norvell and new offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham will have a little more work to do. Previous offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey went to Texas A&M. Despite the loss of a star QB, a star WR, and the OC, Memphis is still a top 35 team in our College Football Power Ratings and remains the favorite to represent the AAC West in the conference championship game.
Memphis checks in at +175 at BetOnline to grab the AAC crown and +235 at 5Dimes, where the Tigers have a win total line of 8.5 with the under at -140. BetOnline has 7.5 with the over at -135. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
|Date||Opponent||BangTheBook Line||Expected Wins|
|9/14 (F)||Georgia State||-26.5||1|
|9/28 (F)||@ Tulane||-10||.77|
|11/16 (F)||@ SMU||-12||.83|
Expected Wins: 9.80
While our power rating is high on Memphis right now, this is a team that we will have to watch closely. Only a handful of QB snaps are on the roster, as David Moore had 10 attempts last season and Arizona State grad transfer Brady White didn’t see a ton of time. White was a highly-touted recruit a couple of years ago by Norvell when he was the OC at Arizona State, so he’s certainly familiar with his background and thought he was a good fit for the team. Memphis ran for 5.7 yards per carry last season and returns its top three rushers, so the quarterback will have a lot of help in that regard. Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is only 28 years old, so there is an element of inexperience that could be on display here.
Memphis returns four starting linemen from a group that owned the line of scrimmage last season. Most of them are upperclassmen recruited by Fuente, who certainly built this program into a powerhouse in short order. Memphis only allowed 21 sacks, a total that will go up this season with a less experienced quarterback, but this group will give either quarterback time to go through his progressions. Even though Ferguson and departed WR Anthony Miller are huge losses, this Memphis offense shouldn’t be downgraded that much.
Where our projections may really be off is on the defensive side. Memphis is replacing a lot of star power on Chris Ball’s side of the ball. Genard Avery had 8.5 sacks to lead the team and also 13.5 tackles for loss. Top cornerback Jonathan Cook had 13 pass breakups and two interceptions. Sophomore TJ Carter was the AAC Rookie of the Year last season and fellow corner Tito Windham was originally an Oklahoma recruit that had 11 breakups last season. Memphis played some serious shootouts last season, which left the defense tired or out there playing to kill time with big leads. The Tigers defense was out there for 113 more plays than the offense.
The offense will still move at a decent clip, but the explosive plays will likely come down a little bit, which means that the defense will get a little more downtime. There is good depth on defense and the last two Fuente classes are now upperclassmen, which means that talent previously blocked by entrenched starters now gets a chance to flourish.
There aren’t many schedules weaker than this one. The Tigers draw UConn and East Carolina in conference crossover play. They do face UCF, but they’ll see the Knights at home in the rematch of last year’s 40-13 embarrassment. It is a double revenge spot for Memphis following the loss in the conference title game as well. Two easy Sun Belt foes will allow the offense to get back on track with its new personnel in the non-conference.
Pick: Over 7.5 (-130, BetOnline)
This isn’t as strong of a pick as, say, Houston, just because we could be off on Memphis’s potential coming into the season. Replacing a receiver with 96 catches for 1,462 yards and 18 touchdowns and the program’s third-leading passer (in just two years!) is a hard task. The heavy expected win total is a byproduct of a terrible schedule. Most power ratings will have Memphis a dog to UCF and a dog to Missouri, which does temper expectations a bit. While this looks like a massive overlay, especially with the line at BOL, don’t go overboard here.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Houston and South Florida are grabbing most of the preseason headlines in the AAC, but don’t sleep on the Memphis Tigers. Second-year head coach Mike Norvell has one of the most experienced teams in the country and an extremely talented roster at his disposal. The Tigers have gone from 10 wins, to nine wins, to eight wins over the last three years, as Justin Fuente moved on the Virginia Tech and Norvell took over the reins last season. This is a team that did an excellent job moving forward without Fuente and without Paxton Lynch, who certainly put his stamp on the program.
Now, they’re looking for more. An 8-5 season is good, but it’s not good enough because the standards have gotten a lot higher for Memphis football over the last three years. This is a program that won just 12 games from 2009-13. With better talent and better coaching, the Tigers have made some enormous strides to not just become one of the best teams in the conference, but one of the better teams in the country among Group of Five schools.
The sports betting community has definitely taken notice. Bettors look ahead to the 2017 season for the Tigers with a win total line of 8.5 at 5Dimes Sportsbook and the juice at -125 on the over. Keep in mind that the win total odds are only for the regular season and do not include conference championships or the postseason.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/30||@ Georgia State||-21||1|
|10/19 (T)||@ Houston||+2.5||0.48|
|11/3 (F)||@ Tulsa||+1||0.49|
Total Expected Wins: 9.37
The loss of Paxton Lynch barely slowed down the Memphis offense. Tennessee transfer Riley Ferguson had a huge season with first-year head coach Mike Norvell, who was previously the offensive coordinator at Arizona State, and Darrell Dickey, who agreed to stay with the team to make the transition go smoother from Justin Fuente to Norvell. Ferguson completed over 63 percent of his throws with a 32/10 TD/INT ratio. He was terrific after coming over from junior college. Ferguson also got better as the season went on and as he got more comfortable in the offense. That’s huge for this season because Memphis returns a ton of skill position talent.
Doroland Dorceus ran for 810 yards and the next three rushers on the stat sheet are all back as well. Memphis ran for a modest 4.3 yards per carry, but there’s a ton of experience back at this position and the running game is there to balance the offense rather than be the focal point. Anthony Miller caught 95 passes for 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had a chance to go to the NFL, but opted to stay, so the receiving corps is in great shape as well. With four starters back on an offensive line that only allowed four sacks over the last four conference games, this is a group capable of putting up a lot of numbers.
The ceiling for the season may be contingent on the defense. The Memphis offense is going to score points. Will the defense prevent enough of them is the question. The Tigers were outgained in conference play last season by an average of 478-454, which was certainly a disappointment for Norvell and defensive coordinator Chris Ball. Top cover corner Arthur Maulet exhausted his eligibility, but the Tigers do have two Oklahoma transfers ready to slide in at the cornerback position.
Memphis just didn’t generate enough negative plays in the trenches. The Tigers only had 23 sacks and opponents ran for five yards per carry. A lot of the returning starters for the Tigers are in the front seven, so there’s hope that this group can make some strides in Year 2 of Norvell’s tenure. The offense didn’t change a ton with Dickey as a holdover as the OC, but the defense did change. Going heavy on JUCOs means that Memphis is experienced, but we’ll have to see how those guys translate back to FBS.
The Tigers avoid South Florida, though they do encounter UCLA in the non-conference portion of the season. There is a horrible spot against Houston on Thursday October 19 that sets up as one of the worst situational spots in the country coming off of a battle against a triple-option team in Navy. Memphis does have a pretty reasonable schedule otherwise, especially with a chance to really get out in front of this win total at 4-2 with games against Louisiana-Monroe, Southern Illinois, Georgia State, and UConn. They should be road favorites at UCF as well.
Win Total Pick: Over 8.5
As you can see, my numbers have a fairly big overlay here, so the over is definitely the way to go. This should be one of the best offenses in Group of Five conference play, even with some of the other heavy hitters in the AAC. The defense is undoubtedly a worry, but the Tigers don’t have a ton of great offenses on the schedule. At least not many that are as polished as their own. This is a team that I really like for the 2017 season.