Last season, Memphis rebounded from a 2-10 season in 2006 to make their fourth postseason appearance in five years.
The Tigers started the 2007 season with three losses in their first four games, but they won six of their last seven games to earn a place in the New Orleans Bowl, where they lost to upstart Florida Atlantic.
This season, Memphis has some key names to replace, but they have the talent to make yet another bowl game.
Coach: Tommy West (41-44 at Memphis)
2007 record: 7-6, 6-2 C-USA (lost in New Orleans Bowl)
Returning starters: 18 (offense: 7, defense: 9, kicker/punter: 2)
Top returnees: WR Duke Calhoun, WR Steven Black, LG Dominik Riley, DT Clinton McDonald, FS Brandon Patterson, CB LeRico Mathis
Key losses: QB Martin Hankins, RB Joseph Doss, RG Andy Smith, LB Jake Kasser, S Dontae Reed
Aug. 30 @ Mississippi
Sept. 6 Rice
Sept. 13 @ Marshall
Sept. 20 Nicholls State
Sept. 27 Arkansas State
Oct. 2 @ UAB
Oct. 10 Louisville
Oct. 18 @ East Carolina
Oct. 25 Southern Miss
Nov. 8 @ Southern Methodist
Nov. 22 UCF
Nov. 29 Tulane
Key game: Sept. 13 at Marshall - The Thundering Herd should be much improved this season. Memphis should certainly beat Rice in its second game, so a win over Marshall would give the Tigers a 2-0 start in the conference and a huge potential tiebreaker in C-USA East.
The good news is a defense that has been a weak spot the past two seasons returns nine starters (wait, is that good news?) under new coordinator Tim Walton. The former Miami defensive coordinator is the team’s third in as many seasons.
“We’re better defensively,” Memphis coach Tommy West said. “We’re much more aggressive. We’re still learning. We’re still giving up a few too many big plays right now, but as far as the everyday play, it’s been good.”
That unit forced five turnovers in the spring game. Linebacker Terrence Thomas returned a fumble 28 yards for a touchdown, and defensive end Corey Mills and cornerback Michael Grandberry shared defensive MVP honors.
The biggest question will be who replaces two-year starter Martin Hankins at quarterback. The Tigers brought in junior college QB Arkelon Hall, and he may have the inside track on the starting job after sophomore Matt Malouf left the program after spring practice.
”I’m really surprised because I thought Matt had a good spring,” West said. ”And he’s someone who has been in our system for the past two years. I was looking forward to the competition between him and Arkelon in the fall.
”But things change. I wish Matt the best, no matter what he decides, and I hope he has a good career.”
Also in the mix for the starting job will be senior two-sport athlete Will Hudgens, who was recently drafted in the 23rd round by the Cincinnati Reds and is currently playing rookie ball for the Billings Mustangs.
However, Hudgens, who threw for 587 yards and five TDs (with no interceptions) and ran for two touchdowns last season, should be able to take part in fall camp.
Junior college transfer Curtis Steele looks to be the man at running back. He capped a strong spring with 94 rushing yards in the spring game, including a 38-yard touchdown dash. He gives the Tigers a breakaway threat they haven’t had since, well, DeAngelo Williams.
“The running game last year was basically chain-moving,” offensive coordinator Clay Helton said. “Curtis can be a guy that can create explosion plays. He brings the capability of having 20-yard runs and changing the field.”
In addition, West said that former Miami running back Charlie Jones could join the club in the fall. West said Jones, who started three games at Miami as a junior, is expected to graduate from the school with one season of eligibility left. If Jones transfers, he would be eligible this fall. “We are expecting Charlie to be a back here next year,” West said.
Lastly, the Tigers went through the spring without top wideout Duke Calhoun, who sat out while rehabbing a knee injury. Calhoun was limited by the injury through most of the 2007 season but he still managed to catch 62 passes for 890 yards and five touchdowns. Assuming he returns healthy, Memphis will have a strong group of receivers.