Quarterbacks McKenzie Milton of UCF (left) and Riley Ferguson of Memphis (right) have plenty on the line Saturday afternoon.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The American Athletic Conference championship game boasts the best winning percentage of this weekend’s 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conference title game matchups. It also represents the best hope for 12th-ranked UCF and No. 16 Memphis to show skeptics why they should belong in the conversation as one of the nation’s best teams.
The Knights are one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision while the Tigers’ lone loss was a 40-13 drubbing to UCF on Sept. 30. The two teams meet again on Saturday with a likely spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl up for grabs.
“I think this conference deserves more attention than what it is getting and more credit than what it is getting right now,” UCF coach Scott Frost said. “I’m not just saying that about our team. I think there’s a lot of football teams in this league that could beat a bunch of teams in those big leagues.”
Both teams have wins over Power 5 teams. UCF beat Maryland by 28 points three weeks after the Terrapins surprised Houston. Memphis had a 38-35 victory over UCLA.
It is the second straight week that UCF is in the national spotlight. It won the AAC’s East Division title with a 49-42 victory over South Florida last Friday in what was one of the more highly viewed games of the weekend.
The game could be another shootout since it matches the top two scoring offenses in the nation. The Knights (11-0, 8-0 AAC, No. 15 CFP), have scored 30 or more points in all 11 games and are averaging 48.3 points per game. The Tigers (10-1, 7-1 AAC, No. 20 CFP) are averaging 47 points but are at 53.7 during their seven-game winning streak.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Frost said. “They are playing as well as they’ve played all year and we are playing at our best. Both teams have been dominant for the most part.”
Memphis coach Mike Norvell has tried to play up the revenge factor and atoning for the loss earlier in the season.
“We know that last time we were here. We didn’t play up to the ability that we believe we can. Once again those are just words, we have to go prove it on the field,” he said.
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Many anticipate that this is Frost’s final home game at UCF as he is the leading candidate at Nebraska. Frost said the speculation hasn’t been a distraction to him or his team as he has tried to keep the attention on the game plan and trying to maintain an unbeaten season.
Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson had his worst game against the Knights in September. He threw for 321 yards but was intercepted three times and sacked twice. Since then, the senior has been intercepted only three times combined. He also threw seven TD passes the week after that loss as the Tigers routed UConn.
UCF sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton has been one of the more unsung signal callers. The sophomore is second in the nation in passing efficiency (182.9) and has six 300-yard games this season. He threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns in the first matchup against Memphis. Milton though is also dangerous due to his legs. He has 429 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Despite the gaudy offensive numbers, the two teams are among the national leaders in turnover margin. UCF leads the nation at 1.55 while Memphis is sixth (1.09).
This game features two of the nation’s most dangerous returners. Mike Hughes is a big reason why UCF ranks in the top 10 both for kickoff returns and punt returns. He scored the final points in last week’s win over USF with a 95-yard kickoff return. Tony Pollard of Memphis leads the nation returning four kickoffs for touchdowns after taking one 100 yards for a TD last week against East Carolina, and he has six for his career. The sophomore is averaging 44.2 yards per return. He is one TD shy of the season record of five set by Ashlan Davis of Tulsa in 2004, and one off the career mark of seven currently held by three players.