Memphis can clinch the American Athletic Conference West Division title with a victory over visiting SMU on Saturday, but there is much more at stake for the No. 17 Tigers. The ceiling for Memphis, which defeated Tulsa 41-14 on Nov. 3 for its fifth straight victory, is a New Year’s Day bowl game if it runs the table to include a win over No. 12 Central Florida or No. 20 South Florida in the AAC title game.
“That’s something I talked to the team about,” Tigers coach Mike Norvell told reporters. “They’ve made the stakes high. We focus on each game, we focus on each opportunity, but when you have those experiences, and have that success, every opportunity is greater.’’ Memphis is sixth nationally in scoring at 42.3 points per game after averaging 47.8 during the winning streak and is led by senior quarterback Riley Ferguson, who leads the AAC and is tied for eighth in the country with 27 touchdown passes against only seven interceptions. The Mustangs lost at Navy 43-40 last Saturday for their second straight setback with their last four games (2-2) decided by seven points or fewer. “We are just not there yet,” SMU coach Chad Morris told reporters. “We are plays away, not days and months and years away like we have been. We are getting closer.”
TV: Noon ET, ESPNews. LINE: Memphis -12
ABOUT SMU (6-4, 3-3 AAC): The Mustangs boast the 15th-best passing offense by yards (310.3 per game) nationally led by sophomore Ben Hicks, who has 24 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. His favorite target is junior wide receiver Trey Quinn (eight TDs), who leads the country with 98 receptions and is seventh with 1,008 yards. SMU, which is 12th nationally in total offense at 497.1 yards, is led on the ground by sophomore running backs Xavier Jones (806 yards, seven touchdowns) and Ke’Mon Freeman (440, nine).
ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-1, 5-1): A big part of the Tigers’ No. 9 passing offense by yards (329.4) is senior wide receiver Anthony Miller, who has 11 touchdowns among his 67 catches for 905 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Tony Pollard (26 catches, 394 yards, three TDs receiving) is tied for the ead nationally with three kickoff touchdown returns while leading the country by averaging 41.1 yards per return. Sophomore running backs Darrell Henderson (8.2 yards per 95 carries) and Patrick Taylor Jr. (eight TDs) pace the rushing attack.
1. Memphis has won the last three meetings by a combined 162-17.
2. Mustangs junior DB Jordan Wyatt is second among active FBS players with five touchdown returns on defense and is tied for fifth nationally with eight forced fumbles.
3. Ferguson has 59 career touchdown passes, tied for second-most in Memphis annals with the Denver Broncos’ Paxton Lynch (2013-15). Danny Wimprine threw for 81 TDs from 2001-04.
PREDICTION: Memphis 45, SMU 31