2012 Record: 4-8 (4-4 in Conference USA)
Head Coach: Justin Fuente (4-8 as first year head coach in 2012)
Last Bowl Game: 2008 St Petersburg Bowl: lost to USF 41-14
Stadium: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, TN (capacity = 36,000)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 33rd out of 55 mid-major teams
Conference Affiliation: joins the American Athletic Conference for 2013
New Conference Opponents: 10/12 at Houston, 10/30 vs Cincinnati, 11/16 at USF, 11/23 at Louisville, 11/30 vs Temple, 12/7 at UConn
Revenge: 9/7 vs Duke, 9/14 at Middle Tennessee, 9/21 vs Arkansas St, 10/5 vs UCF, 10/19 vs SMU, 11/9 vs UT Martin
Stats to Fear: had 138 offensive plays of 10 or more yards and 39 of 20 or more yards in 2012 (11th and 12th in C-USA); most penalized team in C-USA (69.3 ypg)
Stat to Cheer: after starting 1-8, won their last three games.
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 95th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense 6, Special Teams 1
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Charles Harris (79 tackles), LB Anthony Brown (71 tackles), DB Lonnie Ballentine (66 tackles, 3 INT), DL Martin Ifedi (7.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Jacob Karam (1895 yds passing, 14 TD, 3 INT), RB Brandon Hayes (576 yds rush, 4.88 ypc, 6 TD), RB Jai Steib (427 yds rush, 6 TD), WR Keiwone Malone (44 rec, 3 TD)
CFBZ: Justin Fuente increased the Tigers win total by two last season. What did he do well in his first season as head coach?
Ryne Hancock: The one thing that stood out with this team, as I stated last year in my talk with you, was the amount of effort the Tigers showed on the field in 2012. Fuente and his staff instilled belief in this team and if it wasn't for a delay during the season opener against Tennessee-Martin or a turnover fest against Middle Tennessee, this team would have been in a bowl.
CFBZ: Who are the difference makers on this Memphis team?
Ryne Hancock: One of the biggest difference makers on this team is quarterback Jacob Karam, who I think is in for a monster 2013. On defense, there's Terry Redden and Johnnie Farms, two huge anchors for a unit that finished 50th in the country in total defense.
CFBZ: The Tigers move to a Big East (or American Athletic Conference) schedule this season. Which games do the fans have circled on the schedule?
Ryne Hancock: Although I'm not a Memphis fan by any means, I understand the importance of the Cincinnati-Memphis rivalry, having grown up here. So I think that game, along with AAC contender Louisville, will be two games the fans will look forward to. But to me the most important game will be September 7th when they take on Duke in Memphis to open the season.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
Ryne Hancock: Building on 2012. Reason why I say that is because last year I said this team, which two years ago was laughed at by everyone (including myself), was the best 4-8 team in America. They played hard and gave Memphis fans hope. If they build on that in 2013, this team could go to a bowl. So to be on the safe side, I'd say 6-6 for the Tigers.
After starting off 1-8 in 2012, Justin Fuente and the Memphis Tigers took positive steps by winning the last three games of the season. Can they continue the momentum in 2013 as they look for their first winning season since 2007 when they went 7-6? Over the last four years, the Tigers have won just nine total games so winning four last season was a significant accomplishment for the Tigers. In his second season, Fuente now has more of his guys in place and it will be interesting to see what improvements are made as the team will also step up a little in competition as they enter the conference formerly known as the Big East.
Memphis loses WR Marcus Rucker but returns their QB, their two leading rushers and pretty much everybody that caught a pass in 2012 that wasn't named Rucker. As we pointed out in our "stats to fear" feature, this wasn't an explosive offense but they didn't try to be in 2012 as they ran just 2.14 plays per minute which placed them 105th in the Nation. They should be able to open up the offense a bit this year if they choose to do so. The Tigers also return four offensive line starters so they will be solid along the offensive line.
As Ryne pointed out, statistically this was an improved defensive football team. They shaved five points off of their points allowed from 2011 to 2012 and they also decreased their yards allowed from a league worst 491 to 383 yards per game. The Tigers return six of their top seven tacklers and the defense looked good this spring. If the defense struggles this year, it will be because of an inexperienced secondary (replacing two of four starters).
Memphis plays six teams this year that they lost to in 2012 and they also add Cincinnati, Louisville, Temple, UConn and USF to that group. It's not an impossible road but when you trade out Tulane (2-10) and Southern Miss (0-12) for Louisville (11-2) and Cincinnati (10-3) it's going to sting a bit. It's important for the Tigers that they get out of the gates quicker this season. They can't go 1-8 and then expect a turnaround at the end of the season. Ryne pointed out the importance of the Duke game in week one and I do think it will be critical especially with a new QB under center for the Blue Devils. This is a home game for Memphis and if they can catch Duke early it could help them create a positive snowball of momentum for the first few games. Looking at the schedule I have a tough time finding six wins for Memphis. I see this as a team that will win anywhere from three to six games. If they can get back to bowl eligibility it would be a huge win for Justin Fuente and the Tigers.
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