MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The American Athletic Conference's West Division comes down to Friday's meeting between red-hot host Memphis and injury-ravaged Houston. The winner will advance to the conference championship game against No. 9 Central Florida next weekend.
TV: Noon ET, ABC. LINE: Memphis -7
The Tigers have won three straight games behind a powerful ground game led by Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr., who have combined for 29 rushing touchdowns. Memphis, which won the West last year before losing to UCF in the championship, has a 9-1 record in November games under third-year coach Mike Norvell. The Cougars added quarterback D'Eriq King - with a knee injury ending a season that saw him set the American's single-season record with 50 touchdowns responsible for - and defensive end Payton Turner (foot) to a long list of regulars sidelined with injuries. Houston will try to balance redshirt concerns as they prepare freshman Clayton Tune and graduate transfer Quinten Dormady to start in place of King.
ABOUT HOUSTON (8-3, 5-2 American)
Tune (309 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) has played in three games while Dormady (2-of-5 for eight yards in two appearances) has expressed an interest in preserving his redshirt and exploring transfer options for next year. "(Tune is) ready to play and help his team earn an opportunity to play for a conference championship," coach Major Applewhite said during Monday's press conference. "That's where his mindset is, not on this, that or redshirt. It's on, what do we have to do to beat Memphis." Running back Patrick Carr (733 yards, five touchdowns) and wide receiver Marquez Stevenson (61 catches, 892 yards, nine TDs) will try to guide an offense that is ranked fourth nationally in scoring offense (47.8 points) and total offense (540.8 yards).
ABOUT MEMPHIS (7-4, 4-3)
Henderson is second nationally with 1,521 rushing yards and needs 108 to tie the league's single-season record (1,629 by Tulsa's James Flanders in 2016). Taylor adds rushing 766 yards and Tony Pollard (29 catches, 336 yards, three receiving touchdowns) has gotten more work in the backfield recently, in addition to his kickoff-return duties. Quarterback Brady White has thrown for 2,738 yards, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions while Damonte Coxie leads the Tigers with 60 catches for 1,039 yards and seven scores for an offense ranked seventh in scoring (43.1 points) and total offense (523 yards).
1. Memphis and Houston have split the last four meetings - each of which were decided by fewer than five points. The past three games featured a winning touchdown in the final 90 seconds.
2. Houston All-American DE Ed Oliver, who made national news last week for arguing on the sidelines with Applewhite over a letterman jacket reserved for active players, is expected to play Friday after missing four games with a bruised right knee.
3. Pollard has six career kickoff returns for touchdowns, one shy of tying the NCAA record. Houston's Tyron Carrier, San Diego State's Rashaad Penny and Clemson's C.J. Spiller each had seven.
PREDICTION: Memphis 41, Houston 30