Monday, April 24, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: MEMPHIS
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Memphis begins life A.D. - After DeAngelo (SMQ hereby claims this soon-to-be overused, barely clever turn of phrase in the name of Absurd Previews...)
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 32-27 (20-20 C-USA) - 2005: 7-5 (5-3 C-USA)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 14 (8 Offense, 6 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Most notable, of course, there's no more D'Angelo Williams, prototype for stout, fast, versatile backs and far and away the best player in school history (6,000 career rushing yards...six thousand). Williams almost singlehandedly carried the offense when it had to move a wide receiver to quarterback, couldn't even pretend it might throw and still managed almost 400 yards a game. None of the returning starters have played without the luxry of having No. 20 to carry the show. SMQ's cursing during the Black and Blue Game should decrease in direct proportion to the yards lost with Williams.
Also, the offense: now with actual passing-type quarterbacks!
WHAT'S THE SAME: Tommy West just re-upped through 2010 after three straight seven-plus win seasons, which would have seemed fairly insane when he took over. The Tigers hadn't won seven in three straight seasons since the legendary run of coaches Fred Pancoast and Richard Williams in 1974-76.
PUT THE WIDE RECEIVER BACK IN!:There will be much relief to have Will Hudgens, Patrick Byrne back from injury with Billy Barefield behind them after each missed almost all of 2005...until whoever gets the job starts finishing with lines like 12-25 for 132 yards and two interceptions in a 13-point effort. Martin Hankins, a Hal Mumme protege from Southeastern Louisiana, took twice as many snaps as any other horse in the QB derby during the Spring game, but put up an even worse line then (12-26, 86 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) than the one above.
HOW THOSE SHOES FIT, KID?: Williams' replacement will be Joseph Doss, who SMQ saw enough of in relief spots the last two years to fear the junior as the feature back, especially behind four starters back on the offensive line. He may not have Williams' skills, but Doss is fast and catches the ball well enough to keep things balanced - if one of the quarterbacks hold up his end. Otherwise, Doss can't be the show himself, as Williams could.
Also much missed will be kicker Stephen Gostkowski, scorer of 101 points in 2005 and a two-time all-C-USA pick. Two sophomores, Trey Adams and Kittrell Smith are in line to replace him; for a team that was in six one-score games, it had better hope one of them reasonably can.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Hankins topped 7,700 yards passing in two seasons under Mumme at Southeastern Louisiana, then sat out all last season on the Tigers' bench, learning, scheming. Now he's the odds-on to take the job from Hudgens, Byrne and Barefield, who played until broken legs and ineffectiveness, respectively, ended their seasons. It's much easier to project grandeur onto the new guy, since you've seen the guys there already and they're just sort of eh.
Byrne, too, is "new," since he was maimed on his first pass and didn't participate in the Spring. Hankins, meanwhile, had outings in which he "shines," was "just okay" and looked "solid" (LINK WARNING: Desperate out of bounds toss ludicrously billed as "Best throw he's made all day") in a variety of scrimmage performances before the so-so Spring game. Air Mumme in the River City?
REASON FOR HOPE: Only a handful of these players have ever experienced anything but a winning season under West. There's plenty of experience on offense to overcome the absence of Williams.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: DeAngelo was The Man for all those winning seasons, and his absence leaves a gaping leadership and production hole no one is ready yet to fill.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... 21 Jump Street: never more than "pretty good," but totally jumped the shark when it young, burgeoning star - Johnny Depp, DeAngelo Williams - bolted for bigger and better things.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING: Six wins, juuuuust a bit outside the bowl picture. Wins have gone nine-eight-seven since '02, so why stop the trend, post-Williams?
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona
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Keep 'em coming, anything to make 2-a-days get here faster is gravy.