The day that Paxton Lynch declared to forgo his senior season and join the NFL draft was a day Memphis Tigers fans feared for three seasons. Lynch compiled 8,865 career passing yards and 59 touchdown passes, which rank second of all-time in Memphis football history. He helped the Tigers win their first conference title since 1971 in his 2014 sophomore season and led them to back-to back bowl games for the first time in a decade. Lynch finished his final season strong with 3,670 passing yards and 28 touchdown passes. One of his highlight moments was leading the Tigers to an upset win over Ole Miss and setting a NCAA record with seven touchdown passes in the first half of his final home game versus SMU.
Through a competitive spring practice and first week of summer camp, Memphis may have found a replacement in Riley Ferguson. Ferguson brings a power arm and slight mobility to Memphis that represents a similar style to Lynch. The story of how Riley Ferguson ended up on the University of Memphis campus is both an unlikely and intriguing one.
Ferguson’s path to Memphis began when he committed to the Tennessee Volunteers in 2013. Unfortunately he was forced to redshirt after suffering a leg injury in the preseason. Ferguson never played a snap for the Volunteers after he left Tennessee in the summer of 2014, months after Butch Jones replaced Derek Dooley as head coach. Ferguson moved home and sat out the 2014 football season. He enrolled at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas last fall in an attempt to resurrect his football career.
He threw for 2,942 yards and 35 touchdowns at Coffeyville in the fall and helped lead the Red Ravens to an 8-3 record. Coffeyville has produced multiple NFL players like Brandon Jacobs and Reggie Nelson. Head Coach Mike Norvell reached out to Ferguson immediately after he was introduced as the program's new head coach. Ferguson ultimately decided on the Memphis football program in January after being ranked the No. 2 junior-college quarterback prospect in the class of 2016 by 247Sports.com.
In the spring Ferguson was one of three quarterbacks being considered to replace Lynch. He battled alongside a pair of former redshirts, freshman Brady Davis and senior Jason Stewart. Memphis also got a fourth quarterback, David Moore, when summer practices began.
Coach Norvell has not officially named a starting quarterback yet for the opener against Southeast Missouri University, but it seems it is Ferguson’s job to lose at this point. He demonstrated his strength during the spring game, going 15 for 20 for 172 yards and three touchdowns. He also bulked up over the summer putting on 20 pounds. He’s still not quite as big as Lynch’s 6’7 245 frame, but Ferguson’s size matches a prototypical quarterback for Memphis.
Replacing the most decorated quarterback in Memphis Tigers history will not an easy task for Norvell and his staff this fall. Ferguson already has a leg up due to his spring enrollment, which allowed him to join full practices prior to summer camp. He has definitely established himself as the best candidate to keep the Tigers competitive the season.