For just the fourth time in college football history, two teams will play back-to-back games in the same venue. Cincinnati travels back to Memphis to take on the Tigers for the AAC championship. It’s Memphis vs Cincinnati: Part II.
Last week, this same matchup went down in Memphis. The winner of that game would go on to host this game, and Memphis was able to prevail. These two teams have been excellent all season, and they played a close game, despite Cincinnati having to face major adversity.
Bearcats starting quarterback Desmond Ridder has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, and it seemed to be the main reason Cincinnati was unable to win last week. Backup quarterback Ben Bryant played was solid through the first half but lacked the dynamic playmaking Ridder provides. In the second half, Bryant turned the ball over three times, with two interceptions and one fumble, and it proved to be the difference in the 10-point loss.
Ridder, throughout his career, has been excellent at taking care of the football and to this point has only had two multi-interception games. It’s reasonable to believe that if the Bearcats had their starting QB, they’d be hosting this AAC championship game.
It’s still unclear if Ridder will play in the AAC Championship. He said he wanted to go last week, but the team chose to hold him out. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll be the under center come Saturday. The Bearcats season comes down to this, and I’m not sure there’s a person alive who could stand between Ridder and that field. That’s just the competitor he is. With him on the field, this is a completely different offense.
Memphis has a number of strong defensive prospects, but they aren’t as dominant up front as they appeared in last week’s game. With Ridder off the field, all Memphis had to do to limit the Bearcats’ offense was slow down Michael Warren, their workhorse running back. With Ridder, the Bearcats’ can threaten vertically up the seam, one of Ridder’s favorite throws. He also provides another element to the running game because he’s a dynamic athlete. He was most missed in the red zone, where his sound decision-making and ability to run come in handy. Expect Cincinnati to score more than the 24 points they did last week. If they plan to win this AAC championship game, they’ll need Ridder to play.
As far as draft prospects go, Cincinnati doesn’t have any top tier-talent. Their best player this season has been Michael Warren, but he projects as a rotational back at the next level. Their best defensive player this year has been linebacker Perry Young, but he lacks size and I question just how good his athletic ability is. He’s a great athlete for the position, but when you’re under 6-0 and weigh in about 220, that’s expected.
The best draft prospect overall from the Bearcats is safety James Wiggins. Unfortunately, Wiggins has missed the entire season with a knee injury. That leaves tight end Josiah Deguara as the best Bearcat draft prospect playing in this game. Deguara is enjoying the best season of his career and has already accepted an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Deguara has been Ridder’s favorite target for two years, so expect them to link up a few times against Memphis.
The current favorites to win the AAC championship, Memphis has been a rising program for the past few years now. They’ve had six straight seasons of eight or more wins for the first time in program history, and their 2019 win total of 11 is already the most in program history, and they still have two more games to play. Memphis has a real chance to finish the season with 13 wins, claiming the title as the top non-Power 5 school in the nation, a title opposing AAC team UCF had held for a few years now.
Memphis has been very productive on the offensive side of the ball, scoring 28 or more points in all but one game this season. They’ve scored 34 or more in their last six games, and they’ve gotten over 50 three times. They’re explosive, fast, and downright nasty. They have playmakers all throughout their offense and it shows. Memphis was most successful on offense last week when targeting Damonte Coxie, who had six receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown. If they want to score over thirty points again, they’ll need to find more sustainable success on the ground, then slash Cincinnati through the air.
On defense, the Tigers have given up over 30 points as many times as they’ve held opponents to under 20, four times. They struggle to find consistency and are much better suited to play the pass than the run. They have a strong pass rush and talent in the secondary, but lack gap discipline and talent at the linebacker spots. That’s a recipe for disaster when considering the Bearcats’ strength on offense is their rushing attack. Michael Warren gashed them for 122 yards and a touchdown. That was without the assistance of Desmond Ridder keeping the team on their toes. Memphis must stay home and play with discipline if they want to keep Cincinnati under 30 again.
Memphis is more talented than Cincinnati in terms of draft prospects. Their leading pass rusher Bryce Huff has been excellent for the program, and has 5.0 sacks in his last five games, including 2.0 last week against this same Cincinnati team. They also possess arguably the best cornerback in the conference in cornerback T.J. Carter. Carter was a star last year, and despite taking a slight step back in his play this year, he has the measurables and talent to be a successful NFL cornerback. Memphis’ best offensive prospect was mentioned earlier in Damonte Coxie. Possessing size and speed mixed with polish and savvy, Coxie will be a weapon in the NFL. Running back Patrick Taylor Jr. could also be drafted.
AAC Championship: Memphis vs Cincinnati Prediction
It’s hard to make a prediction for this game because I don’t yet know if Ridder will be playing. If he is, I believe Cincinnati has a very real shot at this game. Last week, they lost on three second-half turnovers by the backup QB and a kick return touchdown that started the game. Those aren’t things you can expect to happen twice.
If Desmond Ridder plays, I expect the Bearcats to win 38-34. If Ridder doesn’t play, I predict Memphis to win 34-28.