2018 AAC Championship Free Pick - Can UCF Rally After Devastating McKenznie Injury?

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D.S. Williamson

November 30th, 2018

It hasn't been easy determining a side for my 2018 AAC Championship free pick. Memphis is a scorching hot team, and UCF has dominated this conference but just lost quarterback Milton McKenzie to a catastrophic knee injury. This game definitely deserves a deep dive.

There's a bit of sentiment that Central Florida deserves a better shot at the College Football Playoffs, but there's no way that's happening. The Knights could dominate Memphis by 30 and the Selection Committee would most likely still shun them. However, a solid AAC Championship victory followed by a dominant win over a Big 5 Conference heavyweight on New Year’s Day could make the Selection Committee wondering if they made a mistake. That could have implications next season when Central Florida figures to be just as strong.

Memphis’s goals on Saturday are much less down to earth. The Tigers only lost by a single point in their battle with UCF earlier this season. Memphis feels it’s the better team. They hope to prove that to the world on Saturday. Are they a worthy 2018 AAC Championship free pick, or is the -3.0 point line favoring UCF saying more than enough considering that McKenzie won't be under center?

AAC CHAMPIONSHIP COLLEGE FOOTBALL BETTING Memphis Tigers at #8 UCF Knights Saturday, December 1st – Spectrum Stadium – 3:30pm ET Odds: UCF -3 (65)

Memphis Ready to End UCF’s Winning Streak

With the 38-10 win over South Florida in Week 13, the Central Florida Knights ran their win streak to 24 games. It’s one of the more impressive streaks we’ve seen in college football even if the Knights don’t play in a Big 5 Conference.

One of the few teams that’s challenged UCF during the current streak is Memphis. The Tigers almost pulled off the cover as a +5 home dog when losing 30-31 on Oct. 13. With some luck the Tigers might have ended UCF’s streak that day.

Memphis knows it should have won the game. The Tigers won’t have to do much to turn the tables on Central Florida in this. We have to assume that the best Memphis team possible will show up at Spectrum Stadium. If the Tigers don’t let the pressure get to them, they’ll have a real shot at the upset.

Central Florida Looking for Good Things from Backup QB Mack

One of the reasons the Tigers are confident is because UCF are going to have to start backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. Central Florida lost McKenzie Milton to an Alex Smith-like leg injury in the victory over South Florida. Like Smith, Milton underwent emergency surgery. His recovery time should be around 6 months.

Mack is an extremely mobile quarterback, who has a big (though inaccurate) arm. The fact that he's a backup isn't necessarily a detriment when making my 2018 AAC Championship free pick, since he's a highly rated prospect. With the right game plan, UCF can use Mack to exploit Memphis’ rush defense. The Knights most likely will showcase Mack in the wildcat while also calling naked bootlegs and straight rushes up the middle. It might be enough for UCF to win and cover against an extremely tight line.

Memphis at #9 UCF Analysis and Pick

Losing Milton’s a big blow, which is why the line went from Knights -5.5 to Knights -3. Even at UCF -3, not every college football handicapper’s jumping on Central Florida. This game is generate a ton of stress in the betting community, and for good reason.

The trends imply UCF covers no matter who starts at quarterback. The Knights are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 at home, 4-1 ATS in their last 5 overall, and 6-0-1 ATS in their last 7 after allowing less than 170 yards passing in their previous.

Memphis is a terrible 0-6 ATS in the last 6 meetings at Central Florida. The Tigers could fold under pressure, but even if they don’t, Mack’s ability to rush the football adds a wrinkle that Memphis might not adequately plan for in only 7 days. I’m going chalk here, investing in the idea that UCF can rally around the Milton injury and focus on getting a much needed, emotional victory for their program.

AAC Championship Free Pick: UCF -3