The UCF Knights haven’t lost a game in two seasons, but they’re still trying to show the college football world that they belong at the top of the sport. Despite being undefeated, UCF finds themselves in eighth place in the College Football Playoff rankings and without their starting quarterback after a horrific injury.
The Knights face a tough test against Memphis in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, as the Tigers gave UCF their toughest game of the season so far.
UCF is a slim three-point favorite at BetOnline over Memphis in a rematch of their one-point game earlier this year, which that nearly saw the Knights lose for the first time in nearly two seasons.
UCF is averaging 43.1 points per game this season, putting them in eighth in the nation in scoring average. However, they could see a massive drop-off in scoring after losing starting quarterback McKenzie Milton to a season-ending leg injury in last week’s win over USF. The Knights did still score 38 points in that game though, so it’s entirely possible that they can continue to fire on all cylinders with what they have.
The Knights are all about balance on offense, as they run the ball for 269.8 yards per game and throw the ball for 261.7 yards per game. It will be interesting to see how those numbers fluctuate in their first full game without Milton, but the team’s ability to move the ball both through the air and on the ground should keep Memphis guessing enough to help the Knights continue to put points on the board.
In Milton’s absence will be Darriel Mack, who has rushed for about seven yards per carry in his 40 carries on the season for the Knights. But Mack has been a huge downgrade as a passer in his limited attempts through the air, having completed less than half of his 43 attempts after the USF game for just 4.05 yards per attempt. He’ll need to keep the offense moving at a faster pace than that to keep up with the Memphis offense in this game.
A key for the Knights in this game will be keeping Memphis off of the scoreboard, and they have a good shot of doing so, as they average 19.5 points per game allowed this season. That is good for 18th in the country, but UCF did struggle on defense against Memphis earlier this year, as the Tigers were nearly the Brock Lesnar to UCF’s Undertaker by nearly ending UCF’s undefeated streak.
A win here for UCF could give them another reason to claim that they belong in the College Football Playoff. They have been perpetually disrespected by the selection committee this season, and that kind of disrespect can really motivate a team that continues to win and deserve that respect.
Memphis AAC Championship Analysis
Memphis averages 43.8 points per game, good for sixth in the country. They are one of the few teams capable of out-scoring UCF, and came just a couple of points away from doing so in their meeting earlier this season. Like UCF, Memphis is a team that can hurt defenses with both the run and the pass, and they frequently do just that.
The Tigers average 275.9 yards per game on the ground and 254.3 yards per game through the air, but their balanced offense does things a little differently than that of UCF. UCF likes to get their quarterbacks involved in their running game, whereas Memphis runs a more conventional offense with quarterback Brady White more confined to the pocket and running back Darrell Henderson carrying the load out of the backfield.
Henderson, by the way, could end up with over 2,000 yards rushing by the end of this season. He’s averaging 8.6 yards per carry on nearly 200 carries this season, which is incredible. At a school where Penny Hardaway is bringing top recruits to the basketball program, Henderson is somehow the best thing going in Memphis’ athletic programs.
The Tigers are a bit leaky on defense, though, giving up 29.5 points per game. That is good for 81st in the nation in scoring defense, which will not be good enough against the UCF offense no matter who their quarterback is. Memphis did hold UCF to just 31 points in their last meeting, but that game was in Memphis, whereas this game is in the home of the defending national champions, according to UCF at least.
This game doesn’t have quite the same meaning to Memphis that it does to UCF, but being the first team to knock off UCF in a couple of years is plenty of motivation in its own right. Memphis is going to bring its best rushing attack to this game, and it should be an exciting one.
Memphis vs UCF Trends
UCF enters this game at 11-0 straight up on the season, and 8-3 against the spread. The Knights have covered the spread in four of their last five games, including last week’s win over USF where they lost Milton. They are 5-1 against the spread in their last six home games, and 6-1 against the spread in their last seven games against teams with winning records. But they take on a Memphis team that is also on fire against the spread.
Memphis comes into the AAC Championship at 8-4 straight up and 8-4 against the spread on the year. And the Tigers come into the game on good form, having covered the spread in each of their last four games. In their last 21 games in conference play, Memphis is 15-5-1 against the spread, including a cover in a narrow one-point loss to UCF earlier this season.
The loss of McKenzie Milton to injury isn’t a great thing for UCF, but it’s being overvalued based on the offense that the Knights run. They are a run-first offense that can keep the chains moving on the ground, which they can certainly do against a Memphis defense that gives up tons of yards and points on a pretty consistent basis.
Take the Knights to win here and get back into the New Year’s Six while making another convincing playoff argument in the process.
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