Date: Saturday, December 7th
Start time: 2:30pm CT
How to watch: ABC
Line: Memphis -9.5
Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, TN)
If you are Memphis, history is on your side. If you are Cincinnati, you are seeking revenge. Both teams are seeking their first conference title since the AAC was formed. Buckle up. It is going to be a good one.
You have the Liberty Bowl, Mike Norvell, Luke Fickell, two incredible offenses, a championship trophy, and a rematch. It has everything you want in a football game, and it will live up to the hype. If you like offense, well, the last two AAC Championship games had a combined point total of 214 points. Offense isn’t your thing? Well these teams, believe it or not, both can play some defense. Both teams collectively have 40 takeaways on the year, and the game last week had four total.
Cincinnati looks to silence the critics after being named a near 10-point underdog, even with history against them. So far in the, relatively new, AAC Championship game, home-field advantage has been key. The home team is 3-1. Furthermore, when it has been a rematch, the team who won earlier in the season is 2-0. It is of note that Memphis is the reason for that 0-2 record after losing back-to-back seasons to UCF in 2017 and 2018.
As for the game on the field, it appears that the teams will be evenly matched again. After Memphis jumped out to a quick 17-3 lead in the first quarter, true freshman quarterback Ben Bryant settled down and played a good game. Bryant was filling in for Desmond Ridder, who was injured in the first half of their game against USF on November 16th. Fickell has said that Ridder will indeed start against Memphis on Saturday if he is healthy, but if not, it will once again be Bryant. Both quarterbacks possess different skill sets as Ridder is more of a mobile quarterback and Bryant will most likely sit in the pocket. It will be important for whoever the quarterback to hold onto the ball and only make plays that are there. Ridder has done that thus far and has only eight interceptions on the year, while Bryant had two in the last game. Given that was Bryant first start and he has had a week to prepare against a team he just faced, it should help minimize that number.
Mike Norvell has emphasized that his team will be ready for Cincinnati regardless of who is under center. Memphis will look for more of the same success they found last week after they lead for most of the game. The offense played well and made big plays when necessary and their defense bent but did not break. For Mike Norvell, this is a game that can prove all the doubters wrong, and he will have his team motivated. If Memphis can continue to force the pressure they did in the game last week, either quarterback will make mistakes and turn the ball over.
Keys for a Championship:
Memphis: For Memphis, it really boils down to repeating the game plan from a week ago. Regardless of who is in at quarterback, the pressure generated by the defensive line and linebackers will be key. The defense, led by Joseph Dorceus and Bryce Huff, had five sacks, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. It just seemed like that was the difference in the game. So, while everyone talks about offense, it is the defense that will make the difference.
The “How”: So, if defense is the key, how are they going to do it? It all starts with the defenses most important member, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller. His first season in Memphis has lead to a drastic turnaround. After being 110th last year in total defense, Fuller has the Tigers sitting at 48th this year. It is his adjustments mid-game that make him one of the game’s brightest mind. Take the game against Southern earlier this season as a great example. After allowing nearly 250 yards of offense in the first half, Fuller adjusted the scheme and held Southern to only 15 yards in the second half. Memphis runs a 4-3 defense which is mostly predicated on speed. Their speed is what has allowed such drastic improvement this year. In moving several players to new positions, such as moving Huff to defensive end, this defense is incredibly successful. This speed, which showed last weekend, will be the difference in winning the game once again. Cincinnati will look to run the ball to throw the ball, with Warren II getting most of the touches. If Memphis can keep his rushing under 100 yards, Memphis should win soundly.
Cincinnati: As much as it would make sense for the Cincinnati defense to also be important in this game, it just doesn’t seem to matter. No one has been able to stop the offense of Mike Norvell, and Cincinnati won’t either. The amount of points Memphis has won’t matter if the Bearcats can score more.
The “How”: The Tigers have a ton of speed, especially at linebacker, where two former safeties now play middle linebacker. In order to combat this, the Bearcats need to really utilize the middle of the defense. These linebackers are smaller and running the ball through the middle will work and set up some play action passes. Screens, especially to the far side of the field, will be extremely important long term. The Tigers are fast, and with all that speed, they are bound to tire. By the time the 3rd quarter comes around, the Bearcats could do some damage.
AAC Championship MVP: Brady White
Brady White has been having one of the quietest and most successful seasons as anyone in the country. He ranks in the top 15 in the FBS in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and QBR. In big games, he shows up even more. Against Top 25 opponents this season, White has been lights out, passing for an insane stat line of 583 yards, five touchdowns, and a 165.2 QBR. When playing at home, his numbers are even more insane. Brady White plays at home and against a top 25 team so expect some monster numbers.
AAC Conference Champion: Memphis 21 - Cincinnati 17
It is really hard to imagine that Memphis would lose this game after winning this exact same game in the exact same stadium six short days ago. The only thing that might change is the quarterback, and I don’t think of Riddler as a difference maker. I think that defensive coordinators will both make some major adjustments and both teams will play much more lose than they did last week. It will be a good defensive battle to the surprise to everyone. Memphis will score late and win this one, 21-17. Mike Norvell has won just about everything at Memphis except for this game. In what seems like Mike Norvell’s final season as a Tiger, he will go out to secure this trophy and a Cotton Bowl berth.