Despite Lopsided Series, UCF And Memphis Remain The American's Best Rivalry


AAC Championship - Memphis v Central Florida

AAC Championship - Memphis v Central Florida

They have met 14 times and UCF has won the last 13 straight. Doesn't sound like much of a rivalry. But in the American, there is no matchup that compares to the Knights and Tigers. And they meet again with the stakes as high because it is 2020 and all that comes with that.

The War on I-4 is a regional rivalry. But aside from the famous 2017 Black Friday game, UCF and South Florida have not played any other game in their series where a conference title was on the line for both teams.

The AAC has not been around for decades, Despite playing quality football and having 4-5 programs who consistently make appearances in the national polls, the conference doesn't have many rivalries. There are games featuring UCF-South Florida, UCF-Memphis, UCF-Cincinnati and Houston-SMU that have both regional and national interest. But none of those matchups are in the league of Alabama-Auburn or Ohio State-Michigan. 

One can argue that a rivalry exists when both teams win their share of games. But despite a 13 game streak, UCF and Memphis have had some gems in recent years. In fact, you can go back to UCF's Fiesta Bowl in the 2013 season and their game at the Liberty Bowl. The Knights trailed 17-10 with 7:28 remaining in the game. Blake Bortles led the offense on a 80-yard drive and tied the game with 2:05 left. On the ensuing kickoff, freshman William Stanback hit the returner for Memphis to knock the ball free. Drico Johnson picked up the loose ball and ran 12-yards into the end zone for the game winning score.

Fast forward to 2017, after Hurricane Irma postponed the original date of the regular season game, Memphis returned to Orlando for a late September game and after trailing 7-6, UCF scored 40 straight and rolled to a 40-13 win. Two months later, the two met again in Orlando in the American Conference Championship. After four hours, 168 plays and 1,479 yards UCF's Tre Neal's game-ending interception in double-overtime sent the unbeaten Knights to the Peach Bowl. It was an emotional day for many reasons. UCF had captured its 12th straight and was headed to a major bowl on the same day Scott Frost acknowledged he had accepted the job at Nebraska.

Then came 2018. The first matchup saw UCF(5-0) down 20-7 and everything going wrong in the first half on the road. In the second half, heavy rains fell and while UCF's defense was shutting down Memphis, the Knights still trailed 30-17 with under 3:00 to play in the third quarter. That's when UCF faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 29 yard line and Josh Heupel said "Let's go bone." The play called for defensive lineman Trysten Hill to line up at fullback and open a hole for Taj McGowan. Hill did indeed open a hole and McGowan took off for 79-yards and a touchdown. Five minutes later McKenzie Milton went airborne into the endzone for a touchdown to put UCF ahead 31-30. The Knights defense had to hold off a late Memphis drive and deny a field goal attempt and secure the huge road win and remain unbeaten.

Chapter two of UCF-Memphis in 2018 was again in the AAC title game. With Darriel Mack Jr. in for the injured McKenzie Milton, UCF rallied from a 24-7 first quarter score and a 38-21 halftime margin. The Knights outscored Memphis 35-3 in the second half and won 56-41. Mack passed for 348 yards and two scores and ran for four touchdowns and had a night for the ages. UCF closed out a second consecutive unbeaten regular season and secured a spot in their second straight New Year's Bowl game.

And so, the two meet again after not facing off in 2019. And this matchup has much on the line. UCF(2-1) has no margin for error if they are to reach the league title game and get to a major bowl game. The same applies to Memphis who lost late their last time out SMU. The winner will need to run the table and hope to get to the championship game and may have to play that game on the road. The loser will be handed a second loss and find motivation for the rest of the season with any hope of playing in a major bowl game gone.

UCF needs a hot start and must reduce its penalties. The Knights have been called for 37 penalties in the last two games. Those penalties played a major role in their offense never getting into their high tempo and it was a struggle all night against Tulsa. Who is healthy also is a critical factor for the Knights. They were down to their fourth running back against Tulsa. They lost. both safeties and ended up with a young, untested secondary. Memphis has battled injuries as well but has a veteran quarterback in Brady White and an arsenal of pass catchers. Both teams can score points and based on past history, it would not be surprising to see the game come down to the final possession. 

Neither can afford a loss. UCF hopes its streak over the Tigers gets to 14. It may only be mid-October, but elimination has arrived for the best rivalry in the AAC...

Notes: Alabama quarterback Mac Jones' legal name is Michael McKorkle Jones. His dad played tennis at FSU and Flager, where he led the team to a national title in 1977. Mac had originally committed to Kentucky before accepting the scholarship offer from Alabama...After scoring 44 points in their opening season win at LSU, MIssissippi State's offense has scored 14 points in their last two games. The Bulldogs host Texas A&M Saturday...The last tie in college football came in the 1991 Holiday Bowl when BYU and Iowa tied at 13...

Final thought: Happy Birthday to my mom who turns 82 today. The greatest mom a son could ever have. Love you mom!