ANALYSIS: Three things to watch for as Tigers play for AAC Championship

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Some people say bad things comes in threes. Others say the third time is the charm.

Either way, one of these statements will be true for the Memphis Tigers after their third consecutive American Athletic Conference Championship game appearance.

Terry Davis

The Tigers will host the No. 21 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats for the second consecutive week. In the latest biggest game of the season for the Memphis Tigers, it’s the second time in three years that the Memphis program will have an opportunity to play in a New Year’s bowl game.

Memphis is only one of four teams to play in a third consecutive conference championship game (Memphis, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma). The winner of the game will more than likely be selected to play in the Cotton Bowl game on December 28.

You’d think that a rematch on consecutive weeks would mean that both teams know what to expect from each other. But in a few significant ways, these will be different teams than the Tigers and Bearcats who battled on Nov. 29:

Change at quarterback

Last week, the Bearcats started Ben Bryant at quarterback, his first career start for Cincinnati. An injury kept QB Desmond Ridder out of the starting lineup for the Memphis game, and he may well play big minutes for Cincinnati.

The Tigers will prepare for both quarterbacks.

“Ridder is one of most talented quarterbacks in the country,” said Tigers head coach Mike Norvell. “I was extremely impressed with (Bryant). His arm strength, the throws he was able to make and how he responded to the situation.”

Focus, Focus and Focus

When the calendar turns to December, coaching openings are plentiful. Norvell has been a hot coach for a long time.  Having a 11-1 record has not reduced the desire for athletic directors in a Power Five programs to put Norvell at the top of their wish lists.

Norvell has been linked to various coaching vacancies, but it’s almost a foregone conclusion at this point that he will soon be announced as head coach at Florida State. But despite all the buzz, Norvell has done a great job of side-stepping questions about leaving Memphis for another coaching position.

“There are a lot of things that are always said,” Norvell said. “The accuracy of what’s reported sometimes, no offense, is not always on point.”

In the preseason, the Tigers were favored to win every game on the schedule. As early as August, there was speculation the Tigers would be playing in the Cotton Bowl. Each week, Norvell and his coaching staff has had to keep the team locked in on the upcoming opponent and not look ahead.  They have done a great job and have only one more week to maintain focus.

“Before the season everyone was talking about being undefeated and championships,” said Tiger QB Brady White. “My focus is on the week at hand. We are focused on going 1-0.  If you do that consistently you get to the point where you are winning the West and getting to a championship game.”

Playmakers

Memphis is a system where playmakers are put in a position to make plays. The latest example is Chris Claybrooks, who ran back a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game last week.

White continues to make others better. He takes what opposing defenses give him – and squeezes production out of all of it. Last week, he found Damonte Coxie six times for 145 yards and one touchdown. White has had four 300-yard passing games this season.

Redshirt freshman Kenny Gainwell has 1,381 rushing yards this season.  He is fifth in the nation in all-purpose yards 1,873. White has 3,307 passing yards and 32 touchdowns.  The balanced attack of the Tigers have been giving opponents fits all season.

The game will be played as part of championship Saturday, December 7 at 2:30 CT.  The game can be seen nationally on network television ABC – the fourth time this season that Memphis has been on ABC at home.