The Memphis Tigers took one more step towards winning the American Athletic Conference West Division and earning a spot in the conference championship game with an impressive 56-26 victory over Tulane last Friday. The Tigers jumped out to a 35-0 lead before halftime and cruised to victory. Now 7-1 overall and 4-1 in AAC play, head coach Mike Norvell has the Tigers in position to force a rematch with UCF with a New Year’s Six bowl bid likely hanging in the balance.
Of course, the Tigers must win out to have any shot at a premier bowl slot, and though Tulsa comes into the week 2-7 overall and 1-4 in league play, it won’t be easy to beat the Golden Hurricane on the road. Tulsa’s lone AAC victory came against Houston in dominant fashion, and Philip Montgomery’s squad has suffered three losses by one possession. Meanwhile, Memphis has survived four games with wins decided by a single possession.
Memphis at Tulsa
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Memphis -12.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Memphis QB Riley Ferguson
The Tigers rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring (42.5 ppg) and passing offense (329.0 ypg), and have averaged more than 500 yards per contest and 6.75 yards per play this season. The biggest reason for that success is Ferguson, who has completed 191 of 320 pass attempts (59.7 percent) for 2,583 yards and 23 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Ferguson, a Tennessee transfer, threw for 298 yards and three TDs with an interception in the Tulane win, and added two scores on the ground. He posted a career-high 471 passing yards in the comeback victory over Houston two weeks ago and set a new personal-best with seven touchdown passes earlier against Connecticut. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior is a legitimate NFL prospect.
2. Can the Tulsa defense make a stop?
Montgomery has a great reputation as an offensive coach, and the Golden Hurricane have had success moving the football this season, especially on the ground. Tulsa ranks 12th nationally in rushing offense (260.2 ypg), and running back D’Angelo Brewer ranks No. 11 among all FBS players with 980 rushing yards. Overall, the Golden Hurricane ranks in the top 40 in scoring (32.9 ppg) and total offense (446.2 ypg). The problem has been a defense that ranks among the worst in the country, statistically speaking.
Tulsa has allowed 37.7 points and 550.1 yards of total offense per game this season, which ranks 119th and 128th, respectively, among 129 FBS teams. Every Tulsa opponent has gained at least 400 total yards against the Hurricane this season, including six that surpassed 500 yards – three of which gained more than 600 total yards. The Golden Hurricane rank dead last in yards allowed per play (7.56) and yards per pass attempt (10.7), and also have allowed more plays of 30 yards or more (34) and 50 yards or more (13) than any other FBS defense. Opponents have gained 270.4 passing yards per game (118th), 279.7 rushing yards per contest (128th), and have averaged 5.89 yards per carry (127th).
3. Road to the New Year’s Six
Memphis comes into the game ranked No. 23 in the initial College Football Playoff committee rankings, which is the second highest among all Group of 5 programs. Only No. 18 UCF, which beat the Tigers 40-13 Sept. 30, sits higher in the poll. A road win over Tulsa, paired with subsequent home victories over SMU and East Carolina to close the regular season, would guarantee the Tigers a spot in the AAC Championship Game. Should the Knights stay undefeated, Memphis would then have an opportunity to avenge its only loss of the season in a Top 25 showdown. A league title would likely push the Tigers to the top of the pack among non-Power 5 conference teams.
Tulsa’s 38-34 loss to SMU last week means the Golden Hurricane will miss the postseason. However, an upset victory over Memphis would help soften the blow of a disappointing year. And, Tulsa can play the spoiler since the Tigers still have everything to play for. The Golden Hurricane are capable of putting up points, but given their struggles to slow down opposing offenses, and an explosive Memphis squad led by NFL prospect quarterback Riley Ferguson, the Tigers should survive.
Prediction: Memphis 45, Tulsa 35
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.