The Memphis Tigers are off to a 3-0 start with the last two wins coming on the road, and they now return home for a primetime ESPN game vs. Cincinnati Thursday.
The undefeated home team playing its AAC conference opener could have a nice edge under the lights in prime time Thursday night vs. a team that will probably be without its star quarterback when the Cincinnati Bearcats (2-1, 0-3 ATS) pay a visit to those Memphis Tigers (3-0, 2-1 ATS) at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN at 7:30 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Memphis as a big favorite for this contest with the current line at -9 with odds of -110.
Bearcats Already 0-1 in Conference
While Memphis is opening up its conference season here, the Bearcats have already played one AAC contest and the result was not a good one as they lost at home to the Temple Owls 34-26 two weeks ago. They then followed that up by struggling badly with the Miami-Ohio RedHawks of the MAC in the Battle of the Victory Bell this past Saturday before surviving 37-33 as 20-point favorites, dropping Cincinnati to 0-3 ATS despite the 2-1 record.
The Tigers meanwhile have improved steadily under Coach Justin Fuente and they went from 3-9 including 1-7 in the AAC in 2013 to 10-3 while sharing the AAC title with Cincinnati and Central Florida at 7-1 last year in a season that ended with a Miami Beach Bowl win over BYU.
Well, Memphis has built off of that momentum with a 3-0 start, as after toying with Missouri State of the FCS here at the Liberty Bowl 63-7 in the opener, the Tigers have been the winning college football picks on the road the last two weeks 55-23 at Kansas and 44-41 at Bowling Green. That gives Memphis a 10-game straight up winning streak going back to last season.
Freshman Quarterback Likely to Start
Cincinnati may have escaped with the narrow win vs. Miami-Ohio in Oxford, but they suffered a bigger loss during the game when quarterback Gunner Kiel suffered a concussion. Kiel comes off of a 2014 season where he passed for 3254 yards and 31 touchdowns vs. 13 interceptions, and he was has completed 63.0 percent of his passes and is averaging 8.1 yards per attempt this season through the early going with 805 passing yards already.
Kiel was replaced by freshman Hayden Moore vs. the RedHawks, and while he did score the winning touchdown on a one-yard run with 1:13 left, Moore completed only 7-of-14 passes for 118 yards with two interceptions. It is highly unlikely that Kiel will be cleared in time from his concussion to play in this game given the short week, meaning that the freshman Moore is now expected to make his first collegiate start, and it comes on the road vs. a very good opponent.
And while the Bearcats may have had an excuse for their struggles on offense, there was really no excuse for the defense allowing 33 points and 448 total yards to a Miami offense that had been struggling mightily entering that game. That does not bode well for the defense’s chances to now contain what has become a high-octane Memphis offense in enemy territory.
Top 10 Offense for Memphis
Memphis is currently fifth in the country in scoring with 54.0 points per game and eighth in total offense with 570.3 total yards per contest, and the Tigers are doing that with great offensive balance, averaging 251.0 rushing yards on 4.6 yards per carry and 319.3 passing yards on a whopping 10.9 yards per pass attempt.
That should not come as a surprise though considering the Tigers returned quarterback Paxton Lynch, who last year became just the third Memphis quarterback ever to surpass 3000 passing yards in a season, as well as running backs Doroland Dorceus, Jarvis Cooper and Sam Craft and four of their top six receivers from the 10-win team of last year when Memphis reached its first bowl game since 2008.
Now the defense had its hand full with Bowling Green last week, but the Falcons can do that to any defense and even after allowing 41 points and 579 yards in that contest, the Memphis defense is still allowing a commendable 354.3 total yards per game on just 3.3 yards per rush and 6.6 yards per pass, and now in all likelihood facing a backup freshman quarterback making his first ever college start on the road also helps.
Tigers in a Rout at Cincinnati Last Year
Finally, Remember that Memphis went on the road to Cincinnati last season and blew out the Bearcats 41-14, holding a then healthy Kiel to just 11-of-27 passing for 216 yards and intercepting him once. Meanwhile, Lynch torched the Cincinnati secondary for 311 yards and the Tigers ran up 610 total yards of offense!
There is really no reason to expect a different outcome here with Memphis now playing at home and Cincinnati probably forced to start a freshman quarterback in place of the concussed Kiel, so give the points and expect a double-digit win by the Tigers on ESPN Thursday.
College Football Pick: Memphis -9 (-110)