MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Sixteenth-ranked Memphis earned the right to host and looks to knock off No. 21 Cincinnati for the second straight week when the teams re-convene for the American Athletic Conference Championship Game on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers forced three turnovers and used 145 receiving yards from Damonte Coxie to beat visiting Cincinnati 34-24 on Nov. 29, and move within one win of a likely trip to the Cotton Bowl as the Group of Five representative.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Memphis -9.5
“It’s going to be all the same - the issues we have, the experiences we have,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell told reporters. “They’re looking at the same thing. There will be adjustments made in every phase. The thing that gives you an advantage, or could be, a disadvantage is a little bit of knowledge of personnel.” Junior quarterback Brady White, who boasts 3,307 yards and 32 touchdowns passing, will lead the way for the Tigers while Bearcats are expected to have their No. 1 signal caller back. Sophomore Desmond Ridder (1,836 yards, 17 TDs passing) is expected to return from a shoulder injury for Cincinnati, which is confident it can turn the tables and avoid back-to-back defeats in its first AAC title game appearance. “It doesn’t change anything,” Bearcats senior offensive lineman Chris Ferguson told the Cincinnati Enquirer of playing on the road again. “Our goal this whole season was to reach the top of the mountain. You know, (Saturday) we’re going to be one step closer to that goal. When the goal is in sight, there’s a hungry dog that’s going to go get it.”
ABOUT CINCINNATI (10-2)
Freshman Ben Bryant threw for 229 yards and a touchdown last week, but had two interceptions along with a lost fumble, and Ridder could help the offense run a bit smoother. Junior Michael Warren II gained 122 yards on the ground with a touchdown last week to go over 1,000 yards for the second straight season (1,061, 12 TDs) and Ridder has two prime targets in sophomore receiver Alec Pierce (29, catches, 534 yards, two TDs) along with senior tight end Josiah Deguara (34, 470, seven). The Bearcats gave up 33 points combined in the three games preceding the first trip to Memphis and junior safety Darrick Forrest (92 tackles, three interceptions) leads the defense.
ABOUT MEMPHIS (11-1)
The Tigers’ defense will be hampered by the loss of junior cornerback TJ Carter (39 tackles), who suffered an undisclosed injury in last week’s contest and will see his streak of 39 straight games played end. But this team leans on its offense most days and White (66.4 percent completion average) has several top targets to look to, led by Coxie (59 catches, 979 yards, nine TDs), senior Antonio Gibson (29, 604, seven) and senior Kedarian Jones (34, 518, four). Freshman Kenneth Gainwell has been very productive on the ground with 1,381 yards along with 12 scores and through the air with 41 receptions, 492 yards and three more touchdowns for a team averaging 41.5 points - eighth-best nationally.
1. Memphis senior DE Bryce Huff leads the team with six sacks, including two last week.
2. Warren needs 173 yards to pass Robert Cooper (2,786) for sixth on the school’s all-time list.
3. The Tigers, who lost to Central Florida in the last two AAC title games, lead the overall series 22-13 and won the last four matchups.
PREDICTION: Memphis 45, Cincinnati 24