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SQ American Athletic Conference Championship Preview

Aileen Perilla/ Orlando Sentinel

Memphis will make their second trip to Orlando this season. Can they come away with a win in the most important game of the year?

In the third American Athletic Conference championship game the UCF Knights will take on the Memphis Tigers for the second time this season. The Tigers won the AAC West with a 10-1 overall record and 7-1 in the conference. UCF, on the other hand, remains one of only two undefeated FBS teams and has their sights on a New Year’s bowl game. 


Storylines Heading Into The Game


1. Memphis seeks revenge- The AAC title game will make it three times that UCF and Memphis have had to game-plan against each other. The first scheduled game on September 8th was canceled due to Hurricane Irma and was luckily rescheduled. Memphis was feeling good about their chances, especially after beating UCLA just two weeks earlier, but the Knights demolished them in a 40-13 game. 

Star quarterback Riley Ferguson threw for 321 yards but also tossed three interceptions. Overall Memphis’ defense gave up 603 yards to UCF in what has been the only loss for the Tigers. Not only can they win the AAC, Memphis could also play spoiler to a UCF team with eyes on a major bowl game. 

2. Two Highest Scoring Teams Go Head-to-Head- Unlike the first game, expect a shootout throughout the entire game. UCF and Memphis boast two of the most prolific offenses not only in the AAC but in the entire country. 



Yards per Game (Rank)Passing Yards per Game (Rank)Rushing Yards per Game (Rank)Points per Game (Rank)
Memphis Tigers529.6 (5th)327.1 (9th)202.5 (32nd) 47 (2nd)
UCF Knights523.9 (6th)325.5 (11th)198.4 (35th)48.3 (1st)


As one can see from the chart, these two teams are neck-and-neck in every offensive category. Both feature prolific passing attacks with two dynamic quarterbacks. The Tigers’ Riley Ferguson is a top-10 quarterback in both yards (3500) and touchdowns (32) and is the unquestioned leader for Memphis. On the other side McKenzie Milton, only in his sophomore season has made a name for himself too. Throwing for 3,301 yards and 30 touchdowns, Milton was named AAC Offensive Player of the Year. Expect both these QBs’ names to be called often in this game. 

3. Scott Frost’s Future- UCF’s Scott Frost might just be the most talked about coach in the country and for good reason. For beginners, he’s 17-7 during his first two years in Orlando and is the first coach to turn a team from winless to undefeated within two years. 

All season long Frost’s name has been brought up for expected head coaching jobs, especially at Nebraska. Frost was the starting quarterback for the Huskers’ 1999 national championship team and has been linked to the team even before Mike Riley was fired. Nebraska is a natural pick and Frost has not come out and said anything to squash the current rumors that he will be announced on Saturday afternoon after the AAC game. After two years rising from the ashes, the Knights may be left scrabbling by year’s end. 

Key Stats


+17- Coaches always stress winning the turnover game, and UCF has mastered that concept. The Knights are tied with Miami for the best turnover margin in the country at +17. With 27 takeaways against 10 turnovers on the season, UCF has a positive turnover margin in every game except against SMU. In the last matchup, Memphis turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions. Two of those turnovers occurred inside UCF territory and killed any comeback chances the Tigers may have had. If Memphis is to have a chance they’ll have to take care of the ball because more times than not, UCF will turn those turnovers into points. 

16- A team doesn’t go undefeated with just a few good player scattered about the roster, they win with good players at every level on both sides of the ball. The Knights’ roster is full of talent as shown by their AAC record 16 players named to the conference first or second teams. Their high-profile offense, unsurprisingly, has seven selections, five on the first-team. UCF’s defense also has six selections, including linebacker Shaquem Griffin who is the only unanimous selection.  Memphis will have their hands full in trying to find a weakness to exploit, but if any team can it’s them. The Tigers have nine All-AAC selections with six on offense, two on defense, and one on special teams. 


In all, we set a new @American_FB record with 16 All-Conference selections!https://t.co/1CgfhTaxco

UCF Football (@UCF_Football) November 29, 2017


.922- When UCF played USF last week the Bulls had 12 plays go for at least 20 yards, including five touchdowns. The Tigers will certainly look into going deep against the Knights, but they can score in close as well. They rank 11th in red zone scoring at .922 percent. Memphis has been in the red zone 51 times this season and came away with a score 47 times, including 39 touchdowns. This is a positive sign for them especially considering UCF is one of the worst at stopping teams once they get inside the 20. The Knights rank 87th in red zone defense giving up a score .862 percent of the time.  

Key Players


Memphis WR Anthony Miller - Memphis’ offense goes as Ferguson goes, but his top target is an absolute spark plug. Senior receiver Anthony Miller has 78 receptions, which is almost 50 more than the next best receiver on the team. He’s also one of the better receivers in the country. Miller ranks seventh in yards (1,212), ninth in receptions, and second in touchdowns (14). In five of Memphis’ games this season, Miller has topped the 100-yard mark, with his best coming against UConn where he picked up 224 yards and four touchdowns. The Ferguson-Miller connection will be seen a lot on Saturday and will need to be efficient if Memphis wants to win. 


Memphis WR Anthony Miller went from an offer-less senior to a top WR draft prospect, helping Memphis go from doormat to 10 wins: https://t.co/XSK60RX405

— Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings) November 30, 2017


UCF CB Mike Hughes- With all the talk of the Knights’ offense, the defense needs some love too. Griffin is the heart and soul of the defense, but the most important player when going against Memphis will be Junior Mike Hughes. After starting his college career at North Carolina, Hughes has made a huge impact for the Knights. As a defensive back, Hughes is only ninth on the team in tackles but is tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. Of those four interceptions, one was brought back for a touchdown, also the most on the team. Hughes was one of those named to the All-AAC First-Team as a defensive back, but he was also named to the All-AAC Second-Team as a return specialist. He ranks in the top-15 nationally in yards per kickoff return (34.9), punt return yards (232), and kickoff touchdowns (2). Hughes is a big difference maker in a couple different ways and Memphis needs to know where he is at all times. 


UCF playmaker Mike Hughes eager to finish strong in AAC title game https://t.co/4rHUDP5TKj pic.twitter.com/pN09Zy8rmu

— Orlando Sentinel (@orlandosentinel) December 1, 2017



Post-Season Impact


This AAC title game has different levels of impact for each team. UCF has the most to lose if they stumble in the title game. Win and the Knights complete a 12-0 season and will most likely find themselves in the conversation for a New Year’s Six bowl game. Lose and UCF will find themselves playing for a lesser bowl game like the Birmingham Bowl. 

For Memphis, the post-season stakes aren’t as high. A win against UCF and finishing the year 11-1 with an AAC title will garner some attention from some of the bigger bowls, but hoping for a New Year’s Six bowl game for the Tigers might be a little out of reach. Win or lose, Memphis will probably end up in either the Birmingham Bowl or St. Pete Bowl. 


Projection 

I can’t see this game being a blowout either way like we saw in their first matchup. Since that game, Memphis has averaged 53.57 points and scored 70 points twice. This team is battle tested and has all the weight off their shoulders. Expect the Tigers to come out and establish their elite passing attack early and often.


The next “job at hand” for @MemphisFB is the #AmericanFB Championship. #AmericanPow6r pic.twitter.com/t9tMaVWlyZ

— American Football (@American_FB) November 30, 2017


UCF is coming off an emotional win against rival USF and all the talk around the team lately has been around coach Frost. With Nebraska rumors gaining traction will the Knights be too distracted to compete? This offense is just as good as Memphis’ but this UCF defense just got gashed by USF. Even so, the Knights have enough playmakers on the defense to slow down the Tigers. Whichever team has the ball last most likely wins this game. 

UCF 45-41


Edited by Brian Kang.

SQuiz
When was the last time Memphis beat UCF?
Created 11/27/17
  1. 2015
  2. 1990
  3. 2000
  4. 2010

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