The undefeated UCF Knights (11-0), coming off a thrilling win over rival USF, will take on the Memphis Tigers (10-1) Saturday for the AAC Conference Championship. After winning these teams’ first meeting, UCF will hope to take care of business again at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando. The game starts noon EST, with the game being televised on ABC.
The 12th-ranked (AP poll) Knights steamrolled Memphis (18th-ranked) last time around, in a 40-13 win. The Tigers were not as in-tune offensively as they are now, but they were still putting up big numbers coming into that game. They looked very pedestrian against the UCF defense.
But Riley Ferguson has taken the next step at quarterback, and has 32 touchdown passes and 3,500 pass yards to prove it. The Tigers have also shown incredible balance, with a line that has opened some big holes as of late, on top of giving up the 7th-least sacks in the country.
Running through those holes is Patrick Taylor Jr. and Darrell Henderson. Taylor Jr. has 700 yards and 5.8 YPC splitting the load. With even less carries, Henderson has an incredible 1,052 rush yards, good enough for 9.1 YPC. And the weapons on offense don’t stop there, with WR Anthony Miller (1,212 yards, 14 touchdowns) lightning up the scoreboard.
For UCF, their undefeated season has been all about QB McKenzie Milton, who has made his presence known through the air (30 touchdown passes, 3,301 yards) and the ground (5.2 YPC, 6 touchdowns). RB Adrian Killins regained his form against USF, and that’s big moving forward into the two biggest games of their season.
With 19.2 yards-per-catch, WR Tre’Quan Smith is as dynamic a weapon as you’ll find in this conference. But UCF has five wideouts who contribute consistently, so there’s plenty to cover for defenses.
The spread for this game is seven points, with UCF playing favorites.
Don’t expect 40-13 or anything closer to that for UCF. But when they faced USF last weekend, they got the full-force of what that team could do. It was the kind of effort their opponent had been looking for all year. And UCF still beat them.
Memphis on all cylinders is no stronger. UCF already having beaten them won’t matter. They’ll still have enough desire with how special their season could end. This is for the right to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game for a perfect record, so there’s more on the line here.
The Knights’ defense has fallen off a bit in recent weeks, and the Memphis offense is one of the hottest in the country. But in a game that will undoubtedly go into shootout territory, the Knights can still come up with occasional stops. The Memphis defense has been better, if not brilliant, in recent games. But it’s played East Carolina, SMU, Tulsa, and Tulane the last four contests, and those teams are a combined 17-31.
Last week’s game was bound to happen. USF would never get into higher gear than in a game against UCF. The classic that it became was a whole season in the making. Despite all of Memphis’ improvements and the adjustments they’ll make from their last meeting, Scott Frost has still proven to be the better coach. That’s saying something, considering the talents of Memphis’ Mike Norvell.
With the home crowd behind them and the offense still getting over 40 points of a weekly basis, expect UCF to take control of this game. They protect their QB as well as Memphis, tackle better, and simply have an all-around talent edge.
They’ll continue to bring it all together Saturday with a two-touchdown win over Memphis.