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2020 college football preseason preview: Memphis Tigers

The AAC champs return a ton in 2020, but with a new coach. Can they run it back without Mike Norvell, and maybe even score more offensively?

Memphis Tigers quarterback Brady White passes the ball in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl between the Memphis Tigers and the Penn State Nittany Lions on December 28, 2019 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MThe had an idea in Dana Holgorsen’s first season at UH: let superstar quarterback The Memphis Tigers won the American Conference in 2020, taking home only their second league championship in the D-1A era. But because they’re in the AAC, which sits as sort of a Purgatory between the Power Five and the Group of Five, a title often means losing your head coach post haste. And just like when Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech a year after guiding the Tigers to a title in 2014, Mike Norvell is now off to Florida State.

That type of turnover is de rigeur in this league, with every coach that’s ever won the trophy now somewhere else except one; Josh Heupel, who inherited a stacked roster at UCF in his first season. But the difference in this transition is some consistency, as new head coach Ryan Silverfield had been on Norvell’s staff since 2016.

Memphis Tigers Stats Breakdown

Full VIC breakdown
VIC Sheet explanation

Preseason Win Total From DraftKings

Over/under: 9 wins
Over +100
Under -121

Key Stats

  • Quarterback Brady White returns after an outstanding 2019: 4,014 yards with a 9.5 yards per attempt, and 33 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.
  • The smooth transition from Norvell to Silverfield helped in recruiting, as the Tigers picked up the 67th class in America, their first class above 70 since Norvell and Silverfield arrived in the Mid-South.
  • 73% of players return in 2020, with most of the offensive staff left intact outside of offensive line coach. But those offensive linemen will have plenty of experience, with 43 starts returning.
  • SP+ Preseason Rank: Overall 22, Offense 16, Defense 46


Team (2020 Preseason SP+ ranking)
* AAC Conference Game

vs. Ark St (86)
@ Purdue (46)
vs. Houston* (63)
@ UTSA* (124)
@ SMU* (56)
vs. UCF* (18)
vs. Temple* (72)
@ Cincinnati* (34)
vs. USF* (83)
@ Navy* (55)
vs. UT Martin (FCS)
@ Tulane* (73)

Analysis, Prediction

There’s three cupcakes on the schedule out of conference, and Purdue might be a pick ‘em on the road in Week 2. But even if that’s a loss, you need 6-2 in the league to push. The league schedule is pretty soft in-division (though we see you SMU), but U of M should be favored against UCF at home, and at Cincinnati is a cross-divisional game that will only effect the AAC Championship if the Tigers slip up somewhere else.

The offense returns plenty of weapons from an elite unit in 2019, including the latest from a long line of Memphis superstud running backs in Kenny Gainwell (2,069 all-purpose yards, 16 TDs). Senior wide receiver Damonte Coxie could have left for the NFL after 2,450 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns the last two seasons, but he’s coming back. The wonderfully-named tight end Joey Magnifico is gone, as is athletic freak Antonio Gibson, but there’s still a ton of talent here.

Defensively is the question here, and though there are eight returning starters on defense, this is a unit that was a bit hit and miss in 2019. They did force 19 turnovers in 14 games, and will want to up that number while being in attack mode most of the season. Nine is a big number because it means you need the Tigers to win 10 to cash, and we’d lean over here since there’s no juice if forced to pick a side, but this is probably a stay away because the margin of error is so small.

But that doesn’t mean Memphis can’t repeat, and in fact they might be the favorite.

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