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July 7, 2011

Know thy enemy: Memphis

After ending the 2010 season on a high note, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen will be aiming to begin the 2011 season with a similar tone. Lucky for him, he opens his third campaign as the head man with a team who was chosen by some on Rivals.com as the worst team in FBS in 2011. It will be a high-profile game, televised on a Thursday night, but if Mullen gets his wish it probably won't be nail-biter.

In last year's season opener, also against Memphis, the backup quarterback, Tyler Russell, got more snaps than the starter Chris Relf. The Bulldogs will want to make a statement, but that statement might be finished before halftime.

Memphis Tigers

Head coach: Larry Porter returned to Memphis, his alma mater, in 2010 hoping to turn the program around, but went 1-11 in his first season on the job. For the 39-year old Porter coaching the Tigers is his first gig as the head man. His ascent in the coaching ranks came through association with LSU head coach Les Miles. Porter, a Jackson, Miss., native, coached with Miles for three years at Oklahoma State and he joined Miles at LSU in 2005 as the running backs coach and associate head coach. In both 2007 and 2009 Porter was named by Rivals.com as the National Recruiter of the Year.

2010 in review: Memphis' 1-11 season was only a small step back from the Tigers' dismal 2009 season. After a 49-7 loss to MSU to open the season, Memphis went on to lose in week two, defeat Middle Tennessee in week three and then the Tigers reeled off nine straight losses - most of which were in blowout fashion. The worst of the losses came in a 56-0 drubbing by Louisville on Oct. 9.

By The Numbers: The Tiger offense finished dead last in Conference USA in 2010 in scoring offense (14.4 ppg), rushing (91.6 ypg) and total offense (285 ypg). On the bright side, they did finish 11th in passing (193.4 ypg). The defense fared slightly better, finishing 11th in points allowed (39.8 ppg) and yards allowed (460.7 ypg). The Tigers finished 8th in rush defense (171.9 ypg) and 10th in passing (288.8 ypg).

True freshman quarterback Ryan Williams paced the offense, completing 165 of 290 passes for 2,075 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions but transferred to Miami in the offseason. Senior Gregory Ray led the running backs with 676 yards and three touchdowns, though freshman tailback Jerrell Rhodes came on quick and racked up 469 yards and one touchdown on 116 carries. Sophomore Marcus Rucker was by a longshot the Tigers leading receiver with 704 yards and eight touchdowns on 41 receptions.

2011 Preview: Yes, Memphis has been selected by at least a few as potentially the worst team in the country, so the outlook is bleak. The C-USA's worst offense loses eight starters, including four out of five offensive linemen, the tight end, the quarterback and the running back.

The good news is the freshman phenom, Rhodes, returns to the backfield with a season under his belt, and Rucker, the leading receiver, will be back. Junior college transfer Andy Summerlin was the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart in the spring, and he is the leader for the job, though freshman lefty Taylor Reed will be in the mix, as well.

The defense loses seven starters, including two linebackers and three of the four defensive backs. However, the unit does return a pair of talented defensive tackles - 6-foot-5, 350-pound junior Dontari Poe and senior Frank Trotter, who finished second on the team in 2010 with 80 tackles, including a team-high 16.5 tackles for loss. Deron Furr, a transfer from Auburn, is the only returning starter at linebacker and he recorded 58 tackles including seven for loss in 2010. JUCO transfer Kenyata Johnson is also expected to grab one of the open spots.

The Tigers' best player might be punter Tom Hornsey, who Porter convinced to come from playing Australian Rules Football. Hornsey was a freshman All-American selection last season, averaging 42.7 yards per punt.


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