The University of Memphis football program is at a pivotal point.
A great season could fuel the push into a higher-profile conference. With conference realignment in full effect, Memphis hopes to be a part of a move to either the Big 12 or the Athletic Coast Conference.
Meanwhile and one week into fall practice, the focus is on a return to glory in the American Athletic Conference (AAC). The Tigers have begun the process of getting the team in shape and aligning with new offensive and defensive coordinators.
Coordinator Tim Cramsey will look to get the offense back on its explosive track. Cramsey, who last coached at Marshall University, plans to keep the same offensive scheme that the Tigers have executed for the last six seasons.
Matt Barnes, the defensive coordinator, last coached at Ohio State. He has a defensive unit that historically has gotten off to slow starts followed by strong finishes. Barnes wants to have his unit ready and clicking for two, early-season tests on the road against Mississippi State and Navy.
Head coach Ryan Silverfield is entering his third season. A disappointing 6-6 record last year has saddled the fan base with unsettled expectations for this season.
Quarterback Seth Henigan is returning from a spectacular freshman season. His goals include improving his numbers and reducing his fumbles.
Last season, Henigan was a Football Writer’s All-American. He threw for 3322 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Henigan has been named to the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award watchlist for the top offensive player in Division I football. The award goes to a player exhibiting the enduring characteristics that define Earl Campbell’s integrity, performance, teamwork, sportsmanship, drive, community involvement, and tenacity.
The Tigers’ defense will be led by Quindell Johnson, the New Orleans native who is returning for his senior season determined to build on his reputation as one of the best defensive backs in the conference. Johnson, who was named to the second team all AAC last season, had one interception and 12 pass deflections.
“He has a passion for the game,” said Charles Clarke, who coaches the defensive backs. “He loves it, he studies it, and he breathes it each and every day. It is not something he does here and there.”
Memphis’ deep defensive backfield features Rodney Owens, a fifth-year senior from Nashville, who has experienced ups and downs as a Tiger. He endured a conference championship-game loss to the University of Central Florida and celebrated as part of the championship team that went to the Cotton Bowl.
The Tigers will have three weeks to get ready to play before a hostile, opening-season crowd on September 2 when they travel to Starkville, Mississippi to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Tigers defeated the Bulldogs (32-29) stunningly last year at what now is Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. The Bulldogs’ historical cowbells are expected to be in full force for the rematch.
Tigers on preseason watchlists:
- Quindell Johnson – Bednarik Award Preseason Watchlist; Wuerffel Trophy Watchlist; Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watchlist; Paycom Jim Thrope Award Preseason Watchlist.
- Jacob Likes – Rimington Trophy Preseason Watchlist.
- Wardalis Ducksworth – Allstate’s 31st AFCA Good Works Team.
- Joe Doyle – Ray Guy Award Preseason Watchlist.