The championship game for the American Athletic Conference kicks off this Saturday at 3:30 PM EST at Century Stadium in Orlando, the home of the 11-0 UCF Knights. They’ll be welcoming the 8-4 Memphis Tigers to town for a rematch of this year’s thriller between the two squads. UCF was the visiting team for that one, and they were lucky to escape with a 31-30 victory.
A little of the shine has been taken off of this contest due to the devastating leg injury suffered by UCF QB McKenzie Milton versus in-state rival USF last time out. Freshman Darriel Mack Jr. now has the keys to the UCF offense, and he will be looking to help the Knights extend the nation’s longest winning streak, which now stands at a whopping 24 games, while also taking down the conference crown.
It’s an intriguing matchup between two conference rivals who bring a ton to the table, and we should be treated to a stellar game as a result. Let’s take a look at this game in full detail, starting with the way the oddsmakers see things.
Memphis vs. UCF, 3:30 PM EST, ABC
Memphis vs. UCF pick:
UCF continues to pound the drum for inclusion in the College Football Playoff, and 25 victories in a row would only bolster their own case even further. Reality suggests that’s not likely to happen, but that shouldn’t take away from what the school has accomplished.
UCF has evolved into one of the top programs in the nation, and that’s a big feather in the cap for a relatively small school in relation to the college football heavyweights of the world. As for Memphis, they have already pushed the Knights to the limit once this season, and you can be sure they’ll be fired up to close the deal this time around.
|Record||Conf. Rec.||PF||PA||Streak||Standings||CFP Rank|
Memphis was a middle of the road squad at the halfway point of the season with a record of 4-4, but the squad kicked things up several notches to close the year out strong with four straight wins. That includes last week’s big 52-31 victory over Houston, which secured their claim to the AAC-West crown and a berth in the conference title tilt.
The Tigers were UCF’s toughest test during the 2018 season. For the Knights other 10 wins, the closest margin of victory came in a 35-24 win over Navy a few weeks back. Outside of that, the Knights have been rolling along. The team’s lowest offensive output on the year was the 31 points they dropped on Memphis.
A quick look at the numbers tells us that both the Tigers and the Knights have prolific offenses that can do damage in both facets. The averages really can’t get much closer, as evidenced by the 43.8 points per game that Memphis averages versus the 43.1 points per contest posted by UCF.
It’s a little bit of a different story on defense. Memphis is much stronger in defending against the run, while UCF shows more strength versus the pass. The Tigers have a clear edge on QB pressure, while UCF does a better job of protecting its own signal caller. The turnover margin is no contest, as balls are clearly bouncing UCF’s way in 2018.
These two schools have met every year dating back to 2005. UCF is a perfect 12-0 overall over that span and 7-5 against the spread. The Over has come out just five times in those 12 games, including only once over the last four. For the matchup from earlier this season, UCF was a 5-point favorite in a game with a projected total of 80.5 points.
The total has dropped precipitously for the rematch to 64 points, with Milton being out serving as one of the largest reasons for the decline. Despite the change behind center, UCF checks in as a 3-point favorite as of this writing.
Losing a starting quarterback at any point in the season can be devastating, but it stings, even more, when it happens right before the biggest game of the year. While the Knights are far from a one trick pony, it’s still a setback to go from one of the top QBs in the nation to his backup for the conference title game. We could see UCF lean even more on sophomore RB Greg McRae, but he has demonstrated he is more than up to the task with his stellar outing last week versus USF – 16/181/3.
Over on the Memphis sideline, QB Brady White and stud RB Darrell Henderson lead an offensive attack which has already demonstrated it can trade blows with UCF. On the season, Henderson has rushed for 1,699 yards, good enough for second in the nation, and found the end zone a total of 22 times. In short, we could see plenty of fireworks from both sides.
We can expect a tight game between two evenly-matched squads, and Memphis naturally has an even better chance due to the absence of Milton. However, there’s something to be said for talented teams rallying around a backup signal caller and putting forth an even better effort as a result. We’ll be looking for that to happen on Saturday as UCF extends its impressive winning streak.
Our pick is UCF minus a field goal.