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Tigers Football Insider: How good can Memphis be this year?
University of Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan rolls out of the pocket to complete a pass against Mississippi State on Sept. 18, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

University of Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan rolls out of the pocket to complete a pass against Mississippi State on Sept. 18, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Welcome back to the Tigers Football Insider, where we bring you the latest news and analysis from The Daily Memphian’s Frank Bonner II, Geoff Calkins and John Martin each week. 

Memphis looks good after its first three games and folks should expect the Tigers to finish much better than the fifth-place conference preseason rankings they were given.

The Tigers are showing they are better than many projected, but the real question is how good can they be?


Freshman Seth Henigan is doing well starting at quarterback and Memphis showed against Mississippi State that it can win games even when Henigan doesn’t play his best.

Want to win two tickets to the upcoming Tigers/UTSA game? Click here. 

The Tigers found their bell cow in running back Brandon Thomas, who has the second-most rushing yards in the country. Calvin Austin III is looking like a legitimate candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the best receiver in college football.

The defense had its issues against Arkansas State but held the Mississippi State offense to 12 second-half points in the 31-29 win over the Bulldogs. Memphis can be dangerous if it gets that type of production from its defense every game.

UTSA is the last nonconference game of the year before the Tigers begin conference play next week at Temple. The three most challenging conference games on the schedule are UCF, SMU and Houston. Playing at UCF may not be as difficult as expected after UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel broke his clavicle against Louisville.


The Tigers host SMU on Nov. 6 and the 17-game winning streak at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium should help give fans a reason to be confident about that one. Houston has outscored its last two opponents 89-7 after opening the season with a 17-point loss to Texas Tech.

Memphis is on the road against Houston in what would be the second-to-last game of the regular season. That could be a very intriguing matchup, especially if Memphis is having a good enough season to be in the conversation of reaching the AAC Championship game.

It’s too early for conference championship talk when conference play hasn’t even started, and the defense still needs to show it can consistently play like it did last week. Memphis still has a lot of football to play before that conversation can become a reality, but it’s not outlandish to start wondering if that’s a real possibility for this team. Cincinnati, the favorite to win the conference, isn’t on the Memphis schedule this year.

Memphis also can’t overlook a team like Tulsa, whose 0-3 start could be a little deceiving. The Golden Hurricane dropped the season opener against UC Davis in a game where six players were suspended and three more were suspended for the first half because of the brawl with Mississippi State last year. Four of them were starters.

Tulsa’s other two games were a 28-23 loss to Oklahoma State, after holding a 3-point lead in the fourth quarter, and a 21-point loss to Ohio State after being down by only seven points late in the third quarter. Tulsa has been battle-tested and will try to make up for a tough start by challenging teams in conference play. The Tigers travel to Tulsa on Oct. 9.

Memphis has the talent to make a run in the AAC but we’ll have to wait and see how things play out. Either way, Memphis is on track to have an exciting year.

More from your Insider:

Henigan showed the grit Memphis needs from its quarterback in a game that wasn’t pretty

The true freshman kept his wits about him after the first interception of his college career and an unproductive first half.

Calkins: Savor the win, Memphians. (And also, the SEC tears.)

“Memphians have no reason to apologize for the football team’s win over Mississippi State Saturday. They should savor it as the triumph it was.”

Check out the best images from Saturday’s epic win

University of Memphis football fans can’t help reliving the Sept. 18 victory over Mississippi State’s Bulldogs. Here are a few photos to savor the memories.

Eldridge ‘Pete’ Mitchell, first Black coach in Tigers football program, dies at 87

Mitchell, a Memphis native, was an assistant from 1970 to 1975 and later opened an insurance agency.

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