College Football Countdown: No. 112 Memphis

The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 112: Memphis

Coach: Justin Fuente (0-0, first season)

2011 record: 2-10 (1-7 in Conference USA, sixth in the East Division)

Look back: There have been some lean football years in Memphis with the Tigers. Even before the season kicked off, there was trouble when starting quarterback Ryan Williams announced that he was transferring from the school before the start of the season, leaving Andy Summerlin as his replacement. The Tigers lost the first two games – to Mississippi State and Arkansas State – by a combined score of 106-17 and in the process, lost Summerlin as well to an ankle injury in the first game. A win over Austin Peay in Week 3 was welcome sight but short-lived as the Tigers lost the next four in a row. A 33-17 win over Tulane on Oct. 22 gave Memphis its second win of the season but that’s as far as this team would go as the Tigers dropped their last four to finish out the year. In the offseason, Larry Porter was fired and former TCU offensive coordinator Justin Fuente was hired.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/11

Defensive starters lost/returning: 4/8

Key losses: QB Andy Summerlin, RB Billy Foster, QB Taylor Reed, WR Tannar Rehrer, DL Dontari Poe, DL Frank Trotter, LB Terrence Thomas, DL Tommy Walker

Top returnees: WR Reggie Travis, WR Curtis Johnson, S Lonnie Ballentine, CB/LB Akeem Davis

Strengths: With four players on the offensive line that have starting experience, Memphis is in much better shape than it was this time last season. Jordan Devey started all 12 games last year and will be the anchor of the group. Leading rusher Billy Foster it gone however the position still has some depth with Artaves Gibson and Jerrel Rhodes. Gibson was second on the team with 316 yards rushing while Rhodes added 152 yards. Injuries to the secondary last season forced a lot of young players to step into a starting role. Akeem Davis led the team in interceptions (3) and was second in tackles (78). His return, along with Mitch Huelsing will be key for the Tigers in the fall.

Weaknesses: The most glaring weakness as to be at quarterback. Like his predecessor Williams, Andy Summerlin transferred in the offseason and Taylor Reed and Jacob Karam were suppose to battle for the starting job. However, Reed’s recent decision to transfer as well as left the team with only Karam at quarterback. Karam spend a season at Texas Tech before transferring to Memphis. The defensive line will miss the services of Frank Trotter and Dontari Poe going into next season. Zach Gholson will be called upon to step up. He had 24 tackles last season.

Outlook: If Fuente wanted a reclamation project, Memphis is it. The offense is a mess thanks to the quarterback situation but there are some talented players still around including Gibson and Rhodes in the backfield. There is plenty of talent at receiver but most of it just lacks experience. The defensive line will have some major holes to fill but linebacker and secondary could be the strength of this unit. The Tigers non-conference schedule isn’t Herculean but still daunting with road games against Arkansas State and Duke. Home game with UT Martin, Middle Tennessee, Rice and Tulane should provide ample opportunities for wins.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 UT Martin
Sept. 8 at Arkansas State
Sept. 15 Middle Tennessee
Sept. 22 at Duke
Oct. 6 Rice
Oct. 13 at East Carolina
Oct. 20 UCF
Oct. 27 at SMU
Nov. 3 at Marshall
Nov. 10 Tulane
Nov. 17 at UAB
Nov. 24 Southern Miss

The rest of the countdown:
No. 113 Middle Tennessee
No. 114 UAB
No. 115 Buffalo
No. 116 Tulane
No. 117: FAU
No. 118: UNLV
No. 119: Akron
No. 120: New Mexico

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