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Memphis Tigers vs. UCF Knights Preview and Prediction

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Four American Athletic Conference teams remain undefeated, but that number will be reduced after this week. Something will have to give as Memphis heads to Orlando to take on UCF in a contest originally scheduled for Sept. 9, but moved because of Hurricane Irma.

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The Knights made the biggest statement of the Scott Frost era on Saturday as they went into College Park and blew out Maryland, 38-10. Memphis made big noise earlier this year when the Tigers knocked off then-ranked UCLA on Sept. 16. The Tigers are off to a 3-0 start and coming off a 44-31 win over Southern Illinois.

UCF hasn’t started 3-0 since 2013 but will look to change that this weekend. This will be the first contest between UCF and Memphis since that '13 season, when the Knights defeated the Tigers, 24-17. Memphis will be looking for its second 4-0 start in three years.

Memphis at UCF

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: UCF -4

1. Quarterbacks

Among quarterbacks, UCF’s McKenzie Milton has been one of the most pleasant surprises in all of college football. Milton is fifth in the nation in pass efficiency and is averaging a remarkable 10.6 yards per attempt. Milton also is a threat with his feet, running for 94 yards on just six carries a week ago. Milton was largely inconsistent as a freshman, but he has made significant strides this year and is shaping up to be one of the best-kept secrets in the country.

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Memphis’ Riley Ferguson burst onto the scene last season after playing behind Paxton Lynch. With the exception of a dismal effort against UL Monroe to open the year, Ferguson has been lights out. Ferguson is the definition of a gunslinger and has shown trait that over the last two weeks, averaging 343 yards passing and four touchdowns over those two games. In an upset over a ranked UCLA team on Sept. 16, Ferguson threw for 398 yards and six scores.

2. Darrell Henderson

While Milton has been the focus of the ground attack for UCF, Memphis has a dynamic back who serves as a nice complement to Ferguson. Darrell Henderson, a sophomore, is off to an outstanding start this season. Through three games, Henderson is averaging 9.1 yards per carry, which ranks fifth nationally. Henderson has 345 yards rushing on just 38 carries and has found the end zone three times.

At 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Henderson isn’t the biggest back, but he has shown great breakaway speed with two runs of longer than 60 yards. Henderson will be facing a stout UCF defense that held a good Maryland offense to just 42 yards rushing last week.

3. Turnovers

A primary reason why UCF and Memphis remain undefeated heading into Saturday’s contest: turnover margin. The Knights are among the nation’s best at +4 in that all-important category. The Knights took the ball way from Maryland twice last week without giving it away. UCF did turn it over twice in the opener against FIU, but the Knights took it away four times in that game. Mike Hughes, a junior cornerback, has played a big role with an interception and a forced fumble on the year. UCF was plus-four against Memphis when the teams last met in 2013.

The Tigers come in plus-three in turnover margin this season. Memphis forced four turnovers in the season opener against ULM and intercepted UCLA’s Josh Rosen twice in the upset win over the then-No. 25 Bruins. While Memphis has had a knack for taking the ball away, ball security hasn’t necessarily been a strength, as the Tigers committed five turnovers over their first two games. Things seemed to get better last week in a turnover-free performance against Southern Illinois. The Tigers have been an opportunistic bunch this season. Tim Hart, a freshman linebacker, returned a Rosen interception 60 yards in the upset of UCLA. Second-leading tackler and fellow linebacker Curtis Allen has already forced a pair of fumbles.

Final Analysis

With the month of September almost gone, both UCF and Memphis have shown the ability to light up the scoreboard. Both teams are averaging at least 43 points per game, and both rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring. Both teams will also arrive battle-tested with hard-fought wins over UCLA for Memphis and Maryland for UCF. While Memphis head coach Mike Norvell’s prolific offense has the ability to put up points on just about anyone, UCF has boasted a strong defense so far this season. It also helps the Knights that this game is in Orlando and at night.

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Prediction: UCF 37, Memphis 34

— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the editor of The Daily Nole. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook and follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.

(McKenzie Milton photo courtesy of www.ucfknights.com)