(Brady White photo courtesy Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)
This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.
Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.
When and Where: Saturday, Aug. 31, Liberty Bowl Memorial, Memphis, Tenn., Noon EDT.
There may be new coordinators at Memphis, but head coach Mike Norvell’s expectations remain high for the Tigers as they open the season looking to claim a Power 5 pelt in Ole Miss at home Saturday.
Young Rebels to unveil spread offense under Rich Rodriguez
Matt Luke is entering his third season in Oxford, and while the pressure has not been turned up yet, there are improvements expected as the Rebels are coming off a sixth-place finish in the West Division of the SEC and a season-ending five-game losing streak that cost them a chance at a bowl game and resulted in their second losing season in three years after winning the 2016 Sugar Bowl over Oklahoma State.
Luke has veteran coordinators at the helm in Rich Rodriguez directing the offense and Mike Macintyre in charge of the defense. Both have FBS head coaching experience, with Rodriguez back in the game following a year off after leading West Virginia, Michigan, and Arizona, while Macintyre looking to re-burnish his credentials after an uneven six-year run at Colorado head coach.
Rodriguez has implemented the spread offense, with redshirt freshman Matt Corral the opening day starter. Corral beat out five true freshmen for the job and saw limited action last season behind Jordan Ta’amu, completing 16 of 22 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns over parts of four games.
“You look at all of the little things. Obviously, he has gotten more comfortable in the system but I think it is the leadership – talking to the receivers, talking to the offensive line and feeling comfortable in that leadership role,” Luke said at his media session Monday. “He went out to SEC Media Day and doing all of those little things make a big difference because he was thrust into that role, but I think he has done a good job.”
There is also plenty of inexperience at wide receiver as the Rebels’ top three targets from 2018 — A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge, and DK Metcalf are all gone as well as tight end Dawson Knox. That leaves Elijah Moore as the primary target after he caught 36 passes for 398 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back Scottie Phillips also returns after finishing 72 yards shy of 1,000 despite missing three games due to injuries. He had four games of 100 or more yards, highlighted by his 204-yard effort in the 2018 season-opener versus Texas Tech, and averaged 6.1 yards per carry overall.
Macintyre’s overhaul of the defense includes switching to a 3-4 base in hopes Ole Miss will be better against the run after being gashed for 221.8 yards per game. The Rebels are expecting big things from junior college transfer Sam Williams, who will line up at outside linebacker and is coming off a season in which he totaled 17.5 sacks for Northeast Mississippi Community College.
“I like the 3-4 principle for a lot of reasons,” MacIntyre told Athlon Sports. “You’re able to clog up the B gaps and make the ball bounce, and you’re able to bring edge pressure. We’ve developed a 3-4 scheme to fit college football in the wide, spread game.”
Tigers boast plenty of offensive firepower for OC Johns
Norvell has quietly built Memphis into a good program, with eight wins or more in each of his first three seasons. While the Tigers have ended each of those campaigns with a bowl loss — they lost 37-34 to Wake Forest in the Birmingham Bowl last year partly because 1,900-yard rusher Darrell Henderson Jr. opted to sit out and not risk his NFL chances — it has not stopped schools from poaching his staff.
Kenny Dillingham left to become Auburn’s offensive coordinator while defensive coordinator Chris Bell took over as head coach of FCS school Northern Arizona.
Replacing Dillingham is Kevin Johns, who helped direct Texas Tech’s offense under Kliff Kingsbury — who is now coaching the Arizona Cardinals. The Red Raiders averaged 37.3 points and 485.2 yards as Adam Bowman emerged as one of the top freshman quarterbacks in the country.
Johns has a promising junior in Brady White, who threw for 3,296 yards and 26 touchdowns in his first season in Memphis after transferring from Arizona State after the 2016 season. He also has a pair of 1,000-yard players returning in running back Patrick Taylor Jr. and wide receiver Damonte Coxie as they look to add a new dimension to a productive offense that averaged 42.9 points and 523.1 yards while scoring 50 points on six occasions.
Aptly named tight end Joey Magnifico could be poised for a standout season after totaling 21 catches for 363 yards and five scores while averaging a team-best 17.3 yards per reception.
“The biggest thing was developing the relationships,” White told the Daily Memphian about the positive vibes ahead of the season opener. “Just being a year in the offense and around these guys, I want to step up for them, for our fans. I want to do well for my teammates. I do think I can take a step forward. I was happy with last year. I think we did well as a team. You look at it on paper and people say it’s a good year. You look back and you think you could do better.”
Defensively, Adam Fuller arrived from Marshall and has been tasked with upgrading a defense that gave up 35 or more points six times and was unable to stop American Athletic Conference champion UCF twice last year — the second time being a 56-41 defeat in the conference title game.
Memphis returns three of its four defensive line starters, paced by Bryce Huff and his 9.5 sacks, and JUCO All-American Everitt Cunningham is expected to bolster the pass rush. Junior cornerback T.J. Carter has been a starter since arriving on campus and will look to get closer to his five interceptions from 2017 compared to the two he grabbed last year.
Norvell knows there are differences between an SEC program and a squad from the AAC.
“The reality of it is there’s a lot of guys on this team (Ole Miss) didn’t want,” Norvell said Tuesday. “There’s guys that are on their team that we did want.”
But this could be a big opportunity for the Tigers, to upset an SEC team at home.
“That’s a chip on our shoulder going into any game,” running back Patrick Taylor said. “That’s something that we think about, but at the end of the day, we just have to focus on us and be the best us we can be.”
“We’re excited about this (game),” Norvell said. “Any time you get the opportunity to host an SEC opponent there is going to be a great deal of buzz and excitement. That’s definitely the case here in Memphis. Everywhere I go in the community you can tell all Memphians are excited about some Tiger football. We’re excited about kicking off the season here at home.”
- 4-0 ATS in its last four home games.
- The home team is 4-1-1 in the last six games between the teams.
- The favorite is 3-1-1 in the last five games between the teams.
Ole Miss is:
- 8-22-1 ATS in their last 31 games.
- 0-4 ATS in their last four road games.
- 1-8 ATS in their last nine games on field turf.
Memphis -4.5 (-110)
This line has ticked down two points leading up to kickoff, but the truth is Memphis is the better team in this matchup and should cover a spread of less than a touchdown. The Tigers have experienced returning players at each skill position offensively, and the possibilities of White’s untapped upside being reached in this new offense is too good to pass up with such a small spread.
The Rebels will make this game entertaining, but they need Corral to have a high-end performance to keep up with the Tigers, and that is too big an ask offensively for a redshirt freshman on the road in his collegiate debut.
Memphis 41-50 points band (+300)
A confidence pick in White and the Tigers, who scored 40 or more points on eight occasions and did hang 41 on a top-10 UCF team on the road in their conference title matchup last season. The quality and experience returning at the skill positions coupled with playing a regional rivalry game at home offers confidence Memphis will be firing on all cylinders.
OVER 32 points 1H (-110)
Getting this number below five touchdowns total is pivotal, but the fact is there will be plenty of time on the clock for these teams to put up points with Ole Miss using the spread and Memphis using a variation of Texas Tech’s “Air Raid” offense. Even if drives fail, the clock stoppages with the incompletions offer multiple possessions and big-play opportunities.
OVER 68 points (-110)
While Ole Miss does have some experience in facing a Johns-style offense — the Rebels opened the season with a 47-27 victory over Texas Tech last season — this looks to be an entirely different proposition with a new defensive coordinator in Macintyre.
Memphis’ transition to a new defensive coordinator also plays into this pick, especially if the Rebels’ stable of experienced receivers help Corral get off to a quick start. It may not be the 76-41 shootout Ole Miss had with Southern Illinois last season, but the winner of this game likely will have to score at least 40.
Memphis -3 1H (-110)
This is as much an anti-Corral pick as it is a pro-Memphis one as it is difficult to trust a redshirt freshman getting his first college start on the road. There was some thought to being more aggressive after losing the hook on the low side, but the Tigers are a solid play considering they led by a touchdown or more in five of their seven home games in 2018.