Last season was a year of great triumph for both the Memphis Tigers and Houston Cougars college football programs. While Memphis’ season ended in bitter fashion with a 31-10 Birmingham Bowl loss to Auburn and the departure of first-round NFL draft pick Paxton Lynch, the Cougars carried their regular season momentum into the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl by upsetting ACC powerhouse Florida State 38-24.
The two American Athletic Conference rivals finished the season with a combined record of 22-5, which included a 35-34 home victory for Houston in their lone head-to-head matchup. The future is bright for both schools, but for drastically different reasons.
Firstly, the Memphis Tigers will begin the new season with a pair of fresh faces leading the way. On December 3, the Tigers replaced departed coach Justin Fuente, who took the head coaching position at Virginia Tech, with Mike Norvell, who most recently served as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State. In addition to the change at head coach, the Tigers were in desperate need of a new face at quarterback with the departure of Paxton Lynch, currently of the Denver Broncos.
Norvell was able to deliver with the acquisition of third-ranked junior college quarterback Riley Ferguson, who signed with the Tigers just weeks after Norvell’s hiring. Ferguson averaged nearly 327 passing yards per game last season for Coffeyville Community College in North Carolina. Memphis will begin the season on the first Saturday of September against Southeast Missouri State of the Ohio Valley Conference.
While Memphis looks to begin a new chapter in its history with a pair of fresh faces, the Houston Cougars will look to build off of last season’s historic run with Heisman Trophy hopeful Greg Ward, Jr. leading the way for Tom Herman’s high-octane offensive attack. The Cougars remained in the national championship picture a season ago until their lone loss of last season, which came at the hands of conference rival Connecticut in their third to last contest of the year.
Despite the departures of running back Kenneth Farrow and wide receiver Demarcus Ayers to the NFL, the Cougars will undoubtedly possess one of the most prolific offenses in the nation with Greg Ward Jr. leading the way and Tom Herman continuing to add to his already impressive coaching resume.
Houston will begin its new campaign in a showdown with Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners on September 3. American Athletic Conference fans will have to wait until the final week of the season to see the to see the Cougars battle the Tigers in what should be a game with conference championship implications.
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Image: Flickr/Lindsey Turner