The University of Memphis has retired six jerseys. It's reasonable to think at least one number from this year's remarkable class of seniors will make it to the banner that's now displayed under the press box at the Liberty Bowl. This Saturday's Senior Day will be unlike any other in the history of the Tiger program, as we won't be merely saying goodbye, but good luck . . . for next week's American Athletic Conference championship game, and beyond.
We'll be left to wonder what kind of career numbers quarterback Riley Ferguson
would have posted had he played four years in Memphis. (Playing time would have been challenging before he arrived, of course, as Paxton Lynch manned the position.) The Charlotte native has made the most of his two seasons, to say the least. He and Lynch are the only two Memphis signal-callers to have two 3,000-yard seasons. With 3,201 so far this season and three games to play, Ferguson could eclipse Lynch's single-season record of 3,776 (2015). His 61 career touchdown passes are more than Lynch threw in three seasons (59) and second only to Danny Wimprine's 81 on the Tiger chart. Forget the stats, though. Ferguson has been a winner, posting a record of 17-6 (so far) as an FBS quarterback.
Another two-year Tiger, cornerback Jonathan Cook
, has helped stabilize the Memphis secondary since he arrived as a transfer from Garden City Community College (after two years at Alabama). Cook has started all 23 games he's suited up for and is fourth on the team this season in tackles (58). Four more transfers have played supporting roles in helping this year's team reach 17th in the current AP rankings: defensive back Caelon Harden
, offensive lineman Lio Lafaele
, linebacker Mannie Lowery
, linebacker Darian Porter
, and defensive back Christian Slaughter
(five tackles in the win over UCLA).
• Fourteen of this year's seniors will leave with a special badge of honor: the most wins (36 and counting) over a four-year period in the history of the Memphis program.
If you're betting on a number to be added to that retired-jersey banner, start with 3, the digit worn with extraordinary flare by Anthony Miller
. Once a walk-on receiver from Christian Brothers High School, Miller shredded the Tiger receiving record book, and in only three seasons of action on the field (he lost his freshman year to injury after being redshirted). Miller now owns the Memphis record for receptions in a game (15), season (95 in 2016), and career (217), and receiving yards in a game (250), season (1,434 in 2016), and career (3,196). With one more touchdown, Miller will tie Dave Casinelli for second-most in Tiger history with 36. But again, forget the stats. Miller passes every sensory test of a college football star and now belongs among this program's pantheon of legends.
Count on linebacker Genard Avery
earning first team All-AAC recognition. It will be the Grenada, Mississippi, native's second such honor. After accumulating 23 tackles behind the line of scrimmage over his first three seasons, Avery has 17 this year alone. He leads the Tigers with 5.5 sacks and is second on the team with 63 tackles.
Punting for a team that scores as much as the Tigers is a unique chore, and Spencer Smith
has handled it exceptionally well. He earned first-team All-AAC honors as both a sophomore and junior. He's split duties this season with fellow-senior Nick Jacobs
and has pinned Tiger opponents inside their own 20-yard line six times. Jacobs has 11 such kicks and has drilled five punts more than 50 yards.
and Roderick Proctor
have played in the pass-catching shadow of Miller, but each has enjoyed moments as a chain-moving target for Tiger quarterbacks. Mayhue topped 600 yards in receiving in both 2015 and 2016 and is just 24 yards shy of becoming the sixth Tiger with 2,000 career yards through the air. Proctor's best season came as a sophomore when he averaged 13.4 yards on 25 catches.
Even with five seasons on campus (and 18 games as a Tiger basketball player in 2016), it feels like we didn't see as much of Sam Craft
as we would have liked. The son of a former Tiger (Ray Craft played for Memphis in the 1980s), Craft brought versatility to the Tiger offense when it was finding itself under coach Justin Fuente. Despite losing his senior season to injury, Craft topped 700 yards rushing, 600 yards receiving, and 300 yards returning kickoffs for the Tigers. He could handle the roundball, too.
It's a testament to just how deep the Tiger team has become at running back that Doroland Dorceus hasn't been missed more this season. Slowed by leg injuries, Dorceus has managed only 31 carries (for 150 yards) this fall. He starred as a junior, rushing for 810 yards and nine touchdowns, and is one of only nine Tigers to top 2,000 yards on the ground for his career.
Here's hoping guard Gabe Kuhn gets consideration for All-AAC accolades. The Missouri native has started every game he's played at Memphis (48 and counting) and is a big reason the Tigers have only allowed 11 sacks this season (9th-fewest among FBS teams). Christian Johnson (Southwind High School) has made 26 starts over the last three years on the defensive line and has 9.5 career sacks. Linebacker Shareef White has made starts at linebacker each of the last three years and has four tackles-for-loss this season
Special teams aren't just Tony Pollard kickoff returns. Evan Michael (Christian Brothers) has been a steady holder on place kicks and watched his share of records fall during Jake Elliott's time in a Tiger uniform.
Every year, we bid farewell to seniors who have not often heard their name called. These, though, are the players who make up the fabric of a college program. They are on the practice field with every starter, in the film room, in the weight room, donning their pads and helmets for a game-day opportunity, whether or not their number is called. If you're at the Liberty Bowl this Saturday, make sure you're standing when defensive back Jamil Collins and running back Anthony Young (White Station) are introduced. Again, 36 wins in four years.