Memphis is coming off of its fourth straight bowl appearance and a 10-win campaign that had the Tigers as a fixture in the polls throughout the second half of the season. To maintain this success, Mike Norvell not only needs to break in a new quarterback, but he'll need some new targets to emerge as well. The defense returns eight starters and the hope is this unit will be able to take another step forward. Memphis is still one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference but the Tigers' margin of error has been reduced because of the turnover on offense and the lingering concerns on defense.
Previewing Memphis Football's Offense for 2018
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A program that has benefited from five years of stellar quarterback play must find a successor to Riley Ferguson, who was a record-setting replacement two years ago for first-round NFL Draft pick Paxton Lynch. Sophomore David Moore, Ferguson's backup last season, will be a strong candidate to lead the Tigers and coach Mike Norvell to a fifth straight postseason appearance. Moore is a dual threat whose running ability may separate him from a pack that includes Arizona State transfer Brady White. He also has the strongest arm.
The Tigers will be stocked in the backfield, where 1,000-yard rusher Darrell Henderson returns along with Patrick Taylor. The speedy Henderson ran for 1,154 yards to become the program's first 1,000-yard rusher in eight years, while the bruising Taylor added 866 yards and 13 touchdowns, the most among the backs.
Memphis lost nearly 2,000 receiving yards with the departures of Anthony Miller and Phil Mayhue, but Louisiana natives Damonte Coxie and John "Pop" Williams should step up after displaying their talents last season. Coxie, 6'3" and 200 pounds, is the stat leader among the returning wideouts (21 catches for 323 yards).
The offensive line returns four starters, led by left tackle Trevon Tate, a first-team all-conference selection. Tate and center Drew Kyser are three-year starters.
Previewing Memphis Football's Defense for 2018
Sophomore cornerback T.J. Carter leads the defense after a stellar season in which he earned multiple honors. Carter started 13 games and set a school record for interceptions by a freshman with five. He also had 11 pass breakups and two fumble recoveries, including one on the first snap of his career.
Senior Curtis Akins and junior Austin Hall, the team's top two tacklers, will lead the linebacking corps, along with sophomore Tim Hart, who emerged as a playmaker last season. The Tigers could get a boost from the return of oft-injured Jackson Dillon, who is hoping for a sixth season of eligibility after missing most of the past two seasons. If he's back, the Tigers gain a pass-rushing presence and disruptive force.
Up front, the Tigers return a productive trio in sophomores O'Bryan Goodson and Joseph Dorceus and junior Jonathan Wilson. They combined for 14 tackles for a loss.
To prosper, the Tigers must improve their overall play on defense after ranking 117th in the nation last year, allowing 466.2 yards per game.
Previewing Memphis Football's Specialists for 2018
Junior Tony Pollard is one of the nation's best return men. He had four kickoff returns for touchdowns last season to boost his career total to six, one shy of the NCAA record. The most competitive battle in the spring may have been for the punting job. After losing two effective veterans from last season, the Tigers turn to redshirt freshman Adam Williams and junior Aidan Daily.
Memphis' upward trend continued in 2017. The Tigers won 10 games, played in the AAC title game and appeared in a bowl game for the fourth straight season - a first for the program. They were also ranked in the AP Top 25 every week beginning in mid-October. To maintain the momentum, Norvell must find the proper triggerman, since the Tigers will have an experienced offensive line and depth in the backfield to counter the loss of Miller and Mayhue. Defensively, the Tigers must overcome some alarming numbers and continue to win the turnover battle after ranking third nationally in that category a year ago at plus-1.15 per game.
National Ranking: 38
AAC West Prediction: 1
(Top photo courtesy of Joe Murphy/University of Memphis)