One month into the college football season it is beginning to look more and more as though the Group of 5 representative in the New Year's Six could be coming out of the American Athletic Conference. Houston, Navy and Temple are all off to solid starts while the Mountain West Conference has stumbled, but the Memphis Tigers may be putting together the best possible resume as we enter October.
The Tigers are coming off of back-to-back wins against legitimate preseason Group of 5 contenders Bowling Green and Cincinnati. Memphis head coach Justin Fuente also may have the best offense going among the Group of 5, and the Tigers look to keep things rolling this week with a Friday night contest at South Florida.
College Football Podcast: Week 5 Preview with Andy Staples
Memphis at South Florida
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Memphis -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How can USF keep pace with Memphis?
On paper there is no comparison to be made between the offenses of Memphis and USF. The Tigers are on the prowl with an average of 53.8 points and 570.2 yards per game. The Bulls have scored about half as many points per game (27.3 ppg) and gained roughly 200 fewer yards per game (376.7 ypg). Memphis carries the longest active streak among FBS programs with at least 40 points per game (six straight going back to 2014). USF has scored at least 40 points in a game just once since the beginning of the 2012 season, and that was about a month ago in a season-opening 51-3 win against FCS member Florida A&M.
2. USF must keep protecting the football on the ground
If the Bulls are going to pull the upset, the offense will have to attempt to manage the clock with some effective possessions. That falls on being able to run the football, which has been working well so far. USF has rushed for 221.3 ypg and the Bulls are the only team in the AAC entering October yet to lose a fumble even though they have the second-most fumbles this season among conference teams. At some point the Bulls will not have a bounce go their way, and they cannot afford to have that streak end against Memphis.
3. Time for Memphis defense to get back in a flow
Memphis has more than enough offense to take care of just about any game left on its schedule this season, but this week should see the defense regain some form. In the last two games against Bowling Green and Cincinnati, Memphis allowed 87 points. Fortunately, the Tigers had the offense to prevail anyway against a pair of Group of 5 contenders. Memphis enters the week with the nation's 104th-ranked total defense, a big drop from last season's 28th-rankined unit. The early part of a season can skew the numbers and things should even out for Memphis defensively. That should begin this weekend against USF and an offensive attack that currently ranks just 92nd nationally in yards per game.
This one doesn't need to be over-analyzed. Memphis is simply playing at a higher level than most teams in the Group of 5 mix, and this one should once again be a comfortable victory for the Tigers. Paxton Lynch will look to keep his interception-free season going, although USF has picked off five passes so far this season (three against Maryland two weeks ago). At the end of the game though, Memphis should be heading home with a 2-0 record in AAC play and looking like the top Group of 5 team in the hunt for a New Year's Six bowl.
Prediction: Memphis 43, USF 24
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.