The two highest-ranked teams in the Group of 5 square off in a Friday afternoon game with plenty on the line. Memphis hosts Cincinnati in what could be a preview of the following week's American Athletic Conference Championship Game.
In order for that to be the case, Memphis (10-1, 6-1 AAC) needs to score a win on Friday against Cincinnati (10-1, 7-0) to clinch the AAC West. Doing so would keep Cincinnati in town for another week, as the Tigers would host the Bearcats the following week.
If Cincinnati wins, the Bearcats will get home-field advantage in the AAC Championship Game against either Memphis or Navy. Memphis clinches the division with a win or a loss by Navy (at Houston). Navy clinches the division with a Memphis loss and a Navy win at Houston. And, naturally, the winner will remain in the driver's seat for the New Year's Six spot being reserved in the Cotton Bowl for the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion. A loss this week may make a trip to the New Year's Six nearly impossible with Boise State and Appalachian State still lurking.
Cincinnati at Memphis
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 29 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Memphis -11.0
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
The Cincinnati offense is coming off its worst performance of the season. Cincinnati escaped an upset bid last week at home by Temple with a defense-first 15-13 victory, which was aided by some Temple special teams implosions leading to five Cincinnati points. Simply put, the Bearcats cannot win this game on defense alone, so the offense has to get back on track.
Desmond Ridder has been in a bit of a rut the last couple of games too, having completed just 18 of his 42 pass attempts for a total of 140 yards in two games against Temple and USF. He also failed to throw a touchdown in either game. A high completion percentage has rarely been a feature for Ridder, but Cincinnati may need him to be more precise with his passes in order to keep pace with a Memphis team capable of scoring in bursts.
Memphis has had some of its own defensive lapses this season, such as giving up 41 points to Tulsa and following that up by allowing 48 points to SMU, but Cincinnati's offense is not currently equipped for that kind of scoring total. Cincinnati would much rather keep this game in the 20s with the defense giving the offense a short field now and then to score some points.
When Memphis Has the Ball
Brady White is having a phenomenal season for the Tigers. Coming into the game this week, White has already passed for 3,074 yards and 30 touchdowns. Cincinnati is vulnerable to the pass, so White could be in for another solid outing. Damonte Coxie is close to a 1,000-yard receiving season and owns a team-high eight touchdowns, and Antonio Gibson has been a terrific complement with 596 yards and seven touchdowns.
Making things even more problematic for Cincinnati is the play of freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell. Gainwell has added 472 receiving yards and three touchdowns to go with his 1,294 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman has had a solid season, but this will be his biggest challenge of the year aside from facing Ohio State back in September.
The way the teams have been playing lately, all of the trends are favoring Memphis at home. Brady White simply has too many options to work with, and Cincinnati cannot possibly cover them all enough times to prevent Memphis from doing some damage. Memphis could get off to a slow start as Cincinnati's defense dials in, but there is simply too much at stake for Memphis — including wrapping up a division title — not to come out blazing. Watch for Memphis to open things up in the second quarter and keep a safe distance ahead of Cincinnati the rest of the way.
Prediction: Memphis 38, Cincinnati 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.