It's the first cross-SB Nation Q&A of the season, and we were fortunate to wrangle some time away from Chris James, Memphis beat writer for Underdog Dynasty.
RCT: While we are somewhat familiar with your basketball team thanks to that crazy 2008 title game, our readership could probably use a primer on the football team. Can you give us a quick overview of how the team did last year and what major pieces are missing from that bowl team?
UD: Thankfully there will be no Mario Chalmers this time!
Our team has looked better year to year under Fuente. If we're being honest about last years team then we'd have to say they overshot preseason expectations. I think that a 7 win season last year would have probably been around the correct expectation. To win 10 was completely unexpected.
The biggest losses of the offseason is the 8 defensive starters, many of whom were in our secondary. We lost a solid DB in Bobby McCain (Dolphins) and DL Martin Ifedi (Rams). To be fair, much more was expected of Ifedi last year. He did well but not the same level as his junior season. One of the large losses for the Tigers was Barry Odom (DC) to Missouri. Barry was key in developing Memphis' defenses.
RCT: What kind of expectations did you have for the team coming into this year? Who are the key players that you are expecting to step up and fill the holes left by last year's seniors?
UD: I, as bad as it may sound, expect 10 wins again. I hate saying that because I know Memphis isn't used to big winning seasons like that. I mean, the Tigers have only had two 10 win seasons in their history.
On the defensive side of the ball I expect a lot from LB Jackson Dillion. I know you're wanting newcomers, but expect to hear his name a lot on Saturday. He is just all over the field all the time. Has a nose for the ball. Newcomers I expect to make an impact, or will need to make an impact, include DL Donald Pennington, Ernest Suttles, and DB DaShaughn Terry. Suttles and Pennington played some last year but will need to be the line that contains the run. Terry on the other hand was the guy that ended the bowl game with a int.
RCT: Memphis was an early double-digit favorite over the Jayhawks. While I know that the program has been improving, did you ever envision a day that Memphis would be such a heavy favorite on the road in football?
UD: If when Fuente was hired you said "Chris, in five years Memphis will be double digit favorites on the road over a Big XII school," I would have laughed. I mean, six years ago Memphis barely had 5,000 fans at a home game (Liberty Bowl holds 60k plus). The program was in shambles.
The Fuente era began with just as bad records and losses. If you're a box score type guy then you'd say that the Tigers were awful in Fuentes first two years. Record wise I'd agree. But if you watched product on the field then you saw improvement each game.
To go from Porters final years through Fuente to now, I'm not surprised. These Tigers are for real.
RCT: What do you think will be the key matchup to look out for Saturday?
UD: I think the key matchup, to me, will be the Memphis rush against the Kansas D line. From what I've read the Kansas defensive line is the strongest point, maybe for the whole team. Memphis was strong in the run last week. Very strong. I have a feeling that Paxton Lynch (Memphis QB) will be able to pass pretty much at will. However, if the run game gets going early then Lynch could have a field day. It all starts with the run game.
I'm also interested to see how Memphis handles Montell Cozart. Cozart picked up some yardage on the ground last week. With the newness of Memphis' defense I am curious to see how the Tigers play Cozart.
RCT: Finally, what is your prediction for the game? Does Kansas build on the positive from the second half and pull off an upset for likely their only win of the year, or does Memphis come in and impose their will early and often?
UD: I think the Tigers get out on Kansas early. I can see where the Tigers carry something like a 24-7 halftime lead. After the half I think the Tigers wear the game down. The final, if I am guessing, will be something around 37-13.
RCT: Bonus - We get the feeling that Kansas Football fans are in for a rough season. To do our part to help, we are taking up collections. What alcoholic beverage would you contribute to the storehouse to help our fans drown their sorrows after a loss?
UD: I don't often drink but when I do I am more of a margarita type guy (go ahead with your jokes). However, if I were to need something a little more hard I would have to go with Makers Mark and Coke. If the season really goes the wrong way you can just drop the Coke from that equation!
A big thanks to Chris for being our first
victimvolunteer of the season. Jump over to Underdog Dynasty tomorrow to see our Kansas-centric conversation.