Memphis believes it can still win without Ferguson, Miller

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              FILE -- In this Sept. 16, 2017 file photo, Memphis running back Darrell Henderson (8) runs against UCLA in an NCAA college football game in Memphis, Tenn. Despite losing several experienced starters, Memphis still has experience in the backfield with the return of Henderson, who rushed for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns last season. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
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Memphis must replace the dynamic passing combination that helped the Tigers produce one of their best seasons ever last year.

The Tigers believe they have enough firepower to contend for the American Athletic Conference title even without departed quarterback Riley Ferguson and receiver Anthony Miller.

“This is a different football team,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said. “This is a new team. There are going to be new faces that have to emerge as the leaders. I mentioned the (youth) that we have, but our guys are absolutely passionate about the opportunity.”

Memphis went 10-3 last season, tied a school record for wins and ended the year ranked 25th . The Tigers head into the 2018 season as the favorite in the American West Division, according to the conference’s preseason media poll .

The Tigers got a break when Norvell didn’t parlay Memphis’ success last year into an opportunity at a bigger program . Norvell now faces the challenge of rebuilding the Tigers’ passing attack.

Ferguson is gone after throwing for 4,257 yards to rank third among all Football Bowl Subdivision players last year. The Tigers also must replace Miller, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round after tying for the FBS lead with 18 touchdown catches last year. That duo helped Memphis average 45.5 points last season to rank second nationally .

But the Tigers bring back a productive running back in Darrell Henderson and have plenty of other pieces in place as they try to achieve the goals that eluded them last season.

For all that Memphis accomplished last season, the Tigers ended the year by losing the American championship game to Central Florida in double overtime and losing the Liberty Bowl to Iowa State by a single point . That gives them plenty of motivation.

“That’s something that pushes us every day – being the best versions of ourselves,” Norvell said. “If you look at last season and to have a really good year but come up a bit short, is that our driving factor to be successful? No. But we are going to learn from the experiences that we’ve had.”

Some other things to watch with Memphis this season.

QUARTERBACK COMPETITION

Norvell still hasn’t announced who will open the season as the starter. The main contenders are junior Brady White and sophomore David Moore. White is a graduate transfer from Arizona State, where Norvell previously worked as an assistant. Moore played in five games as a reserve last year.

HENDERSON’S RETURN

While Ferguson has departed, Memphis still has experience in the backfield with the return of Henderson, who rushed for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

STRONG ON THE LINE

Memphis returns four offensive linemen who started at least 12 games last season. Offensive tackle Trevon Tate was a first-team all-American Athletic Conference selection last year.

SHORING UP DEFENSE

Memphis’ high-powered offense made up for the fact that its defense gave up 32.5 points per game last year to rank 102nd nationally . The offense likely won’t be quite as potent this year, so the defense must improve. Memphis does have plenty of experience back on that side of the ball. T.J. Carter picked off five passes last season, while linebackers Curtis Akins and Austin Hall each exceeded 80 tackles.

POLLARD’S PROWESS

Tony Pollard gives Memphis one of the nation’s most electrifying return men. He led the nation in kickoff return average last season and has a school-record six career touchdowns on kick returns.

SEASON OPENER: Sept. 1 vs. Mercer.