The University of Memphis Tigers football team opens the season on Saturday (September 2) at 6 p.m. at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium against Bethune-Cookman in the annual ‘901 Game.’
While the backdrop is a summer of multiple teams switching conferences and Memphis’ desire to upgrade its conference status, players and coaches are focused on the schedule and the upcoming season.
Picked to finished fourth in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll, many among the Memphis faithful are looking for the team to compete for the conference championship with the departure of Cincinnati, the University of Central Florida and Houston to the Big 12 Conference.
Meanwhile, the transfer portal has been swinging both ways for the Tigers, with a noteworthy number of players exiting as others enter.
Third-year quarterback Seth Henigan will be the face of the team. The Denton, Texas QB has been moving up the program’s statistical ladder. He enters the season with 6,893 total passing yards, 47 touchdowns and two bowl-game wins.
The Tigers, who have been hovering around the .500-mark for the last couple of seasons, have made it to a bowl game nine consecutive times. The beneficiary of explosive playmakers such as Tony Pollard, Calvin Austin II and Anthony Miller, who have moved on to the NFL, the Tigers are looking for a new weapon.
““We want to be a smart tough and physical football team. I think you are going to see explosiveness,” said head coach Ryan Silverfield. “We have not been as explosive as we want to be. We have playmakers in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams. That will be something the fans will see, and it will be on full display on Saturday.
The defense should be one of the best in several years. That unit will be led by senior Jaylon Allen. The linebacker from Humble, Texas was an All-Conference player and is expected to compete for first team all-conference this season.
An improved secondary should position the Tigers to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Junior defensive back Greg Rubin (White Station High School) has switched from cornerback, where he started the last two seasons, to safety.
If the Tigers are to meet their success goals for the season, a key will be the viability of the offensive line. There hasn’t been a 1,000-yard running back in the last couple of seasons and that element is considered crucial to the team being competitive. Running backs Brandon Thomas, Jay Ducker and Sutton Smith are poised for a breakout year.
The annual 901-game can be seen on ESPN+. Those with season tickets get free tickets to the next game, if the Tigers win.