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UCF Football: Knights Still Have Enough to Win AAC Championship Game Even Without McKenzie Milton

UCF Football: Knights Still Have Enough to Win AAC Championship Game Even Without McKenzie Milton

UCF Football: Knights Still Have Enough to Win AAC Championship Game Even Without McKenzie Milton

In the midst of a regular-season finale victory against South Florida last week to wrap up a second straight undefeated season, UCF lost star quarterback McKenzie Milton to a serious knee injury. The injury knocked out Milton for the remainder of the game and leaves him out of action this week as UCF looks to win back-to-back American Athletic Conference titles and be invited back to a New Year's Six bowl game.

Standing in the way is Memphis, a team UCF has mastered but still poses a threat to everything the Knights have worked for this season. The loss of Milton at quarterback seems to be a big reason why the Tigers should be more of a threat this weekend, but the Knights have been and still remain more than just Milton. Having Milton watching on the sideline is a bummer for the Knights, but there are still some key players who are more than capable of carrying UCF to a conference championship and back to a New Year's Six bowl game.

Darriel Mack steps in for injured Milton

As Milton is out of action, UCF will send the offense on the field with Mack at quarterback. The freshman has appeared in eight games this season, and this will be his second start this year. Mack got a start against East Carolina earlier this season to fill in for a banged-up Milton, and he rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown while being limited in the passing game. The dual-threat option may rely more on his legs than his arm once again. Last week against South Florida, Mack completed five of 14 pass attempts for 81 yards.

The three-star recruit out of high school can add an ingredient on the ground, but how much he does throwing the football may be a fraction of what UCF would get with Milton. As long as he doesn’t make some mistakes trying to force plays to happen that just are not there, the Knights can survive on offense against a decent Memphis defense.

Greg McCrae continues to step up for Knights

Sticking to the running game, McCrae has been on a bit of a hot streak lately for the Knights. The sophomore has rushed for at least 100 yards in three of UCF’s last four games, and he has scored in five straight games. Last week against South Florida, McCrae played a huge role in lifting the offense after the injury to Milton. McCrae had touchdown runs of 40, 39 and 31 yards while racking up 181 yards in the win. McCrae’s ability to break open a long run was encouraging for UCF and gives the offense something to fall back on against Memphis.

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Junior running back Adrian Killins Jr. also is capable of having an impact on the running game. The Daytona Beach native has only scored four touchdowns this season after scoring 10 last year, but he has been a cog in the UCF offense all season long.

UCF defense hitting stride

UCF hasn’t exactly had the same type of defensive concerns teams like Oklahoma and Ohio State have faced this season, but the Knights have benefitted from tightening things up a bit on that side of the ball the past few weeks. UCF has held each of its last three opponents to fewer than 400 yards of offense and the points allowed has gone down in each of those games from 40 to Temple to 24 against Navy to 13 against Cincinnati and then 10 last week against South Florida.

Cincinnati and South Florida really struggled to get any momentum in the passing game, although the Knights can give up some yards on the ground. Memphis is built to run the ball, but if the Knights find a way to put pressure on Memphis quarterback Brady White to make a big play, they should feel comfortable with that risk.

Never doubt a motivated team

UCF has plenty to play for this weekend. To complete a second straight season without a loss with a conference championship is a rare accomplishment no matter what conference you play in. And, as was the case last season, a win against Memphis will essentially clinch a trip to a New Year's Six bowl game, which would make UCF the first Group of 5 program to make back-to-back NY6 trips in the College Football Playoff era. Yes, UCF is hoping to find a way to wiggle into the playoff itself, and a chance to make a statement without their best player should be great motivation for the Knights as well. More importantly, UCF has a chance to showcase just how good this team really is at a time when many are beginning to count the Knights out simply because Milton will not be playing.

UCF playing at home against a team it has have owned and with a chip on the shoulder could be a bad combination for Memphis.

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.

(Top photo courtesy of @UCF_Football)