SMU AAC Team Preview: Memphis Tigers

Scott breaks down SMU's AAC foe, the Memphis Tigers, in our latest Pony Stampede AAC Team Preview.

Justin Fuente brought the Memphis program from the bottom of the barrel to a potential Big 12 addition in just four years at the helm.  But 9-4 almost felt like a disappointment after losing four of five to close 2015.  With Fuente now at Virginia Tech, and Paxton Lynch now throwing passes in the NFL, the Tigers have an uphill battle to keep moving in the right direction.  That is where former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell comes into play. 


Justin Ford - USA Today Sports

Despite returning four out of their five top 5 rushers in 2016, the Tigers must fill the voids left by their top quarterback (Lynch) and pass catcher Mose Frazier (797 yards, 4 TDs). One of the top-rated junior college quarterbacks from last year’s class, Riley Ferguson, will be the option ahead of three other guys, including former SMU commit David Moore.  After originally committing to play at Tennessee, Ferguson racked up 35 touchdowns and completed nearly 70 percent of his passes in junior college in 2015.  He separated himself from the rest of the Tiger quarterbacks after completing 15-20 passes for 172 yards in Memphis’ spring game.  And while he won’t have the team’s top receiver from 2015, he will still have a talented arsenal in Phil Mayhue (670 yards - above), Anthony Miller (694 yards), and former four-star recruit Jae’Lon Oglesby.  The biggest questions for this offense moving forward will be can Ferguson’s JUCO and spring game play translate to the field in 2016?  They will also have to deal with the loss of their best offensive lineman in Taylor Fallon, as well as two others (Ryan Mack, Tyler Usleton) who started 3 and 5 games, respectively. 

Justin Ford - USA Today Sports

The Tigers lose three of their top four tacklers on this side of the ball, but they still return a number of juniors and seniors that should help.  Shareef White and Genard Avery lead the way as returning and experienced linebackers who can get after the quarterback as well.  In the trenches, the Tigers return their three best linemen in Donald Pennington (5 TFL’s, 2 sacks), DeMarco Montgomery (5.5 TFL’s, 2 sacks) and Christian Johnson (6.5 TFL’s, 4 sacks).  In the secondary, Memphis returns a number of playmakers as well, and they will now have Alabama transfer Jonathan Cook available.  But after giving up 40 points four times, and 30 points 3 times, there are still concerns about this group’s consistency.  In the end, the more the defensive front can disrupt the backfield this season, the better off the secondary should be.  

Bottom Line

Despite losing several of their top players on both sides of the ball, Memphis still has a good chance to be a high-quality team this season in the AAC.  With the receiving group that returns, one of the big questions this fall will be can their new quarterback get them the ball?  And on defense, bringing back experience on the defensive front will help this unit take strides in the right direction as long as they can remain healthy.

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