MEMPHIS, Tennessee — The Memphis Tigers are doing their best to put the past behind them, even while dealing with a new level of excitement and optimism.
For a program more used to losing seasons, the Tigers made a huge leap in 2014 matching the most wins in school history and finishing with a seven-game winning streak for a 10-3 record. That gave Memphis a share of the American Athletic Conference championship and a national ranking after beating Brigham Young in the Miami Beach Bowl.
Now coach Justin Fuente heads into his fourth season knowing fans expect even more.
"We had a little bit of success last year, and that bled over into the community," Fuente said. "People are excited about Memphis football."
The Tigers also have junior quarterback Paxton Lynch back along with remnants of a defense ranked among the best in the nation in several categories, making Memphis the preseason pick to win the conference's Western Division.
Fuente, who got a contract extension last December, is trying to guard against the Tigers slacking off the work it took to build the foundation he's put into place. The schedule includes Kansas, Bowling Green and Cincinnati, the favorite to win the American. After the Bearcats, Memphis plays Mississippi. Fuente says they have a lot of work to do across the board.
Memphis will be focused around Lynch. The 6-foot-7 junior threw for 22 touchdowns last season while completing almost 63 percent of his passes and averaging 233 yards passing a game, and the quarterback also ran for 13 more TDs. Memphis lost top rusher Brandon Hayes to graduation, but sophomore Doroland Dorceus rushed for 237 yards on 46 carries before hurting his right ACL against Ole Miss early last season.
Some things to know about the Tigers:
ONLY SECOND TIME TO 10 WINS: The Tigers' 10-3 record marked only the second time Memphis had reached 10 wins in a season. The previous was in 1938, when the Tigers went 10-0. Those 10 wins also equaled the number of wins the Tigers managed the previous four seasons combined.
TOP 25 RANKING: After its win over Brigham Young, Memphis finished the season ranked No. 25 in the final Associated Press poll. The Tigers had only one previous appearance in the Top 25 poll - at No. 25 in 2004.
BOWL APPEARANCE: The Miami Beach Bowl marked Memphis' first bowl since 2008. The 55-48 win over the Cougars in double overtime was the first postseason win for the Tigers since a 38-31 win over Akron in the 2005 Motor City Bowl.
QUITE A LEG: Placekicker Jake Elliott's 54-yard field goal sent that bowl game into a second overtime last season. The kick was two yards short of the school record of 56 yards also set by Elliott in 2013. A junior this season, Elliott converted 21 of 32 field goals last season and all 57 extra points to lead the American conference in scoring. He was named first-team all-conference each of his first two seasons.
FILLING THE GAPS: Among those missing from the Tigers defense are end Martin Ifedi and cornerback Bobby McCain, both drafted after last season. Ifedi went to the St. Louis Rams, while McCain was picked by the Miami Dolphins. The defense will need to fill a lot of openings from a squad that was 27th in total defense and 19th against the rush.