2011 Record: (2-10, 1-7 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Justin Fuente (first time head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2008 St. Petersburg Bowl: lost to USF 41-14
Litmus Test: 10/6 vs Rice, 11/10 vs Tulane, 11/17 at UAB
Must Win: 9/1 UT Martin
Out of Conference: 9/8 at Arkansas St, 9/15 MTSU, 9/22 at Duke
Stat to Cheer: 30 takeaways in 2011 (17 more than 2010 and #1 in C-USA)
Stat to Fear: gave up 219 plays of 10 or more yards (117th out of 120 teams)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters (Offense: 6; Defense: 7; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: DB/LB Akeem Davis (78 tackles, 3 INT)), LB Kenyata Johnson (72 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Artaves Gibson (316 yds rushing), WR Kevin Wright (36 rec)
Inside Scoop with Ryne Hancock:
CFBZ: Justin Fuente takes over for Larry Porter after he won just three games in two years. What are the initial impressions of Fuente?
Ryne: I think for the most part Fuente wants to make Memphis in the same mold that Gary Patterson made TCU. Keep in mind Memphis, like TCU 15 or so years ago, was a football afterthought. I think with Memphis going to a new conference and fans wanting a winner there's been nothing negative said about the guy as opposed to Porter.
CFBZ: What are the biggest reasons to be optimistic about Memphis football this season?
Ryne: I really couldn't tell you. The problem in Memphis is that people look at the local program as a punchline. In May people are already focusing on basketball as opposed to football. The only thing I could tell you is that at least the team will give some effort, which had been lacking the last two years. Other than that, there's really nothing for people to get excited about when it comes to Memphis football.
CFBZ: Looking at the schedule, what are the games that the fanbase wants to win more than any other?
Ryne: The only game I think people will get excited about is Southern Miss. It's been a fierce rivalry over the years and with former coach Tommy West on the staff there in Hattiesburg, I think the fans would love nothing more than a win over the Golden Eagles.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Ryne: With no SEC teams on the non-conference schedule and a down year in Conference USA, the Tigers should win six games at least.
The Memphis Tigers era of football under Larry Porter can best be described as irrelevant. In fact, that might be a good word to describe their program overall. You have to go all the way back to 1974 to find a head coach that had a winning record at Memphis (Fred Pancoast went 20-12-1 in three seasons). Memphis had a run from 2003-2008 under Tommy West where they went to a bowl game in five of six years but West didn't maintain that success.
Justin Fuente has a large task ahead of him. Fuente learned under Gary Patterson at TCU for five years and Fuente was very successful as an Offensive Coordinator at both TCU and Illinois State. The question is how quickly can he bring this success to Memphis and how quickly can he change their losing culture. The good news is that the cupboard isn't exactly bare. According to Scout.com, Memphis placed no lower than sixth in C-USA recruiting for each of the last three years. Returning starter at QB Taylor Reed has decided to hit the road as it looked like Texas Tech transfer Jacob Karam would be starting even if Reed stayed. It seems like it's a tradition passed down year to year, every year Memphis must start with a new quarterback. Stability has not been a friend of the Tigers quarterback situation and that's something Fuente will need to fix if he wants to be successful.
Despite a pretty easy looking schedule, I would be shocked if this is a one-year turnaround. Memphis will be better and more competitive this season but they still need to build depth, learn how to win and they also need to learn the new systems. Don't expect a miracle but Fuente should have success down the road.
2012 Prediction: 3-9
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