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Memphis vs UCF: Part two for the AAC title

For the third time in a calendar year, Memphis will take on UCF. Can the Tigers finally defeat the Knights?

AAC Championship - Memphis v Central Florida Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Memphis Tigers (8-4, 5-3 AAC) vs UCF Knights (11-0, 8-0 AAC)

Date/Time: Saturday, December 1st, 3:30 PM

TV: ABC (Play-By-Play: Bob Wischusen, Analyst: Brock Huard, Sidelines: Allison Williams)

Radio: WYGM 740 The Game Orlando (Play-By-Play: Marc Daniels, Analyst:Gary Parris, Jerry O’Neill)/WEGR Rock 103 FM Memphis (Play-By-Play: Dave Woloshin & Jarvis Greer)

Location: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, FL

Betting Line: UCF -3 O/U 65

All-Time Series Record: UCF leads 12-1 (UCF won last matchup 31-30 earlier this season)


UCF Preview

Whether or not this is the biggest game in UCF history is up for debate.

What’s unquestionable is this will be the most emotional in the 40-year history of Knights football.

In the midst of winning their 24th straight game last Friday, UCF lost its leader in quarterback McKenzie Milton to a devastating knee injury. “Blood flow has been restored to his leg and the nerve is injured but intact, he will have reconstructive knee surgery at a later date,” said the Milton family in a statement.

On the field, it’ll be up to redshirt freshmen Darriel Mack Jr. to lead the Knights against Memphis.

Central Florida v South Florida
Darriel Mack and Greg McCrae will be tasked with replacing the production of McKenzie Milton.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

In a quest to prove that they’re worthy of the college football playoff, they’ll now be out to prove that they’re more than a one-person team.

For UCF to beat Memphis for the fourth time in 14 months, Mack will need to get the ball in the hands of the litany of playmakers the Knights possess. Equally as important will be the effectiveness of running back Greg McCrae against the American’s second best run defense.

Defensively, UCF will have their hands full. Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. are again two of the best backs in the conference. The two combined for 33 rushing scores and in the October 13th match-up against UCF they combined for 246 yards in the one-point loss.

Here’s an X-Factor that the home team will need to exploit.

“Blitz-Down” success rate is crucial. UCF is one of the top offenses in the nation in converting in those situations (1st & 15 or longer, 2nd & 12 or longer, 3rd & 4 or longer). The Tiger defense is one of the worst in giving up big plays and stopping teams in those situations.

UCF’s offense is one of the fastest paced in FBS football. What will be key is keeping the chains moving in an effort to keep Henderson and Taylor on the sidelines.


Memphis Preview

Third time’s the charm, right? Whether that phrase is Memphis’ mantra this week or not, the Tigers know the importance of this game.

At one point, this team was down and out. Ignored. Eliminated. An afterthought. Preseason hype turned into midseason disaster, and the Tigers were essentially out of the conference championship. Then, chaos entered the picture. Memphis beat AAC West leader SMU, and then beat a battered Houston team to return to the conference championship for redemption. For earlier this season. For the conference championship game last season. For all the marbles.

Two mistakes have ended the last two contests between these two teams. Riley Ferguson’s interception in overtime will have Tigers fans saying “what if” for years to come, and Brady White’s decision to hit Tony Pollard in bounds with 18 seconds left might be right there with it. But here’s the thing, this team knows they can beat UCF.

Darrell Henderson took off in the first half, was stopped cold in the second half, and the Tigers still almost won. Brady White has become a better quarterback than he was at the beginning of the year. The defense has struggled, but stepped up big against the defending national champs. So, how does Memphis end the streak?

White must be responsible with the ball. Turnovers will kill any momentum the Tigers will have in the game, and that lies on White’s shoulders. His efficiency in the pass game will determine if Henderson can break free again. If White and Damonte Coxie can hook up a lot, the Memphis offense will torch the Knights defense.

Defensively, Memphis can’t take Darriel Mack lightly. He may not be McKenzie Milton, but he’s got wheels that will tear apart a defense. Plus, the Knights boast plenty of talent that will still take the field. If they can make life difficult for Milton earlier this year, they certainly can force Mack into some poor decisions. Almost all of Memphis contributing defenders played in last year’s championship game as well, which could be a factor in crunch time.


Prediction

Eric: Everything lines up for UCF to lose this game. While the Knights have won 24 straight, Memphis has strong argument that they should have won the October match-up. Now add in the Milton injury and it appears that the win streak will end Saturday. However, I believe that UCF driven by the loss of their leader and the chance to prove that they’re far from a one-man show. UCF 31 Memphis 28

Joe: If there was ever a time for Memphis to pull off the upset, it’s now. They were a field goal away from beating the Knights earlier this season, and UCF now has to figure out their offense without their best player. It still won’t be easy, but the Tigers will get it done this time. Memphis 33 UCF 31