Central Florida vs. Memphis

Sports Xchange

November 29, 2017 at 11:46 am.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
TV: ABC
SERIES: UCF leads 10-1, including a 40-13 victory on Sept. 30.
RANKINGS: UCF No. 14; Memphis No. 20

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tigers

–KR Tony Pollard has a national-best four kick returns for touchdown and leads the country in kick return average (44.2 yards per attempt). He went 100 yards for a score last Saturday against East Carolina. The sophomore is one away from tying the NCAA record for kick returns for a season (five, Tulsa’s Ashlan Davis in 2004) and the career mark (seven, held by three players, including San Diego State senior Rashaad Penny. Pollard is the AAC’s Special Teams Player of the Year.

–WR Anthony Miller holds the school career mark for receptions (220) and receiving yards (3,340) … and that’s just the start. He holds every major Memphis receiving mark for a career and a season, including 33 touchdown catches for a career — 27 of which came off the arm of QB Riley Ferguson

–QB Riley Ferguson, a senior, is No. 3 on the school’s all-time passing yardage list with 7,198. He trails Danny Wimprine (10,215) and Paxton Lynch (8,863). Ferguson has accomplished all that in 24 games, compared to 38 for Lynch and 46 for Wimprine.

Knights

–QB McKenzie Milton is the ACC’s Offensive Player of the Year, leading the nation’s highest-scoring offense. The sophomore ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency (182.9 rating) and completion percentage (69.1). He has thrown for 30 touchdowns, needing two Saturday to set a school record, breaking the single-season mark held by Ryan Schneider.

–WR Tre’Quan Smith is a veteran receiver closing out his collegiate career with 48 receptions for 921 yards this season, an average of 19.2 per catch. He has 11 touchdown grabs, three away from tying the school record for a season.

–LB Shaquem Griffin was a unanimous selection to the AAC first-team all-conference team and probably would have been repeated as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year if not for Houston DT Ed Oliver. Griffin made nine tackles last week in the win over USF. He has eight tackles for loss this season, including three sacks.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

An almost-certain berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game is at stake Saturday in Orlando, Fla., when No. 14 Central Florida will host No. 20 Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game.

The teams’ holiday aspirations are worth noting because it seems as if speculation about the futures of the respective coaches, Scott Frost of the Knights (11-0, 8-0 AAC) and Mike Norvell of the Tigers (10-1, 7-1 AAC), is hogging the attention instead of the clash of the nation’s top two scoring teams.

Two early-week headlines:

From the Orlando Sentinel: “UCF coach Scott Frost can’t ignore Nebraska job opening ahead of AAC title game.”

From the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “Mike Norvell and Scott Frost are headed to the AAC title game, but where will they go next?”

Answers likely won’t come until next week. Frost, who inherited a team that was winless in 2015 and now has it on the verge of the program’s first undefeated season, was asked if he could confirm he was returning to UCF next year or heading for his alma mater, Nebraska.

“I’m just not going to talk about it. All I want to talk about is this football team,” he said. “I’ve said this a bunch of times, but these guys have given me everything I’ve asked of them and bled and sweat for me. My focus is on this football team.”

The Commercial Appeal reported that Memphis is working on a new contract to try to keep Norvell from wandering off to, say, nearby Arkansas. Norvell declined comment.

Of course, this is typical of the confusion that success can create for a non-Power 5 conference school. Justin Fuente, Norvell’s predecessor at Memphis, left for Virginia Tech after going 9-4 in 2015. Last year, Tom Herman went to Texas following a 9-4 season at Houston.

Imagine the bargaining power of a coach with a conference title in his bag.

UCF and Memphis met Sept. 30 in Orlando with the Knights taking advantage of a 17-point second quarter en route to a 40-13 victory. The Knights not only ran up 603 yards of total offense to the 396 of the Tigers, but they came up with four takeaways while giving the ball away only once.

That, plus a 96-yard touchdown run by UCF sophomore running back Adrian Killins Jr. helped turn the game in the Knights’ favor.

“Otherwise the game would have been closer,” Frost said. “We got the breaks in the first game. We created the breaks, I would say. We’re going to have to do that again.”

Norvell acknowledged that his team was embarrassed.

“We didn’t feel like we played to the best of our abilities,” he said. “All credit went to Central Florida because they caused a lot of that. We turned the ball over four times in the game, lost possession on a kickoff return. We didn’t score in the red zone, things that you can’t do against a great team.”

Said Frost: “Both teams are going to have some new cards to play and some of the same ones. I don’t expect the result of the last game to have anything to do with this one.”

Since that loss, the Tigers have rolled to seven consecutive wins, five of them by at least 21 points. They are No. 2 in the nation in scoring (47 points per game). Quarterback Riley Ferguson has thrown for 318.2 yards a game, running back Darrell Henderson has rushed for 1,045 yards, and wide receiver Anthony Miller has 78 receptions for 1,212 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“Offensively, they’re playing lights out,” Frost said, “and they have been all year.”

So is UCF. The Knights have the nation’s top scoring offense (48.3 ppg), led by quarterback McKenzie Milton, the AAC’s total offense leader (429 yards rushing, 3,301 passing) and veteran receiver in Tre’Quan Smith, who is second in receiving yards per game (83.7),

“This Central Florida team, I think they’ve maximized every opportunity, whether they’ve been on the road against a Big Ten opponent (Maryland), whether they’ve been at home, regardless of circumstance,” Norvell said.