Round One: American Athletic Conference Play Heats Up As Navy Visits Memphis

Memphis Tigers upcoming matchup hosting NAVY Midshipmen could set the stage for AAC Western Divisional Champion.

Nov 22, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers head coach Justin Fuente reacts during the game against the South Florida Bulls at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 22, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers head coach Justin Fuente reacts during the game against the South Florida Bulls at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

(C+P) — The first of several very important American Athletic Conference matchups takes place this Saturday when 6-1 Navy travels to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium to take on the unbeaten 8-0 Memphis Tigers. Saturday’s result will not only affect the first-ever AAC Championship game but could have serious implications on this year’s College Football Playoff.

Head coach Justin Fuente and the Tigers enter Saturday’s matchup with a 15-game winning streak, the third-longest in the nation. Memphis is currently ranked 15th in the nation, the highest ranking for a nonPower Conference, Group of 5 school. It is possible that Memphis, should it take care of its own business the rest of the season, could wind up being part of the discussion as one of the final four teams in the College Football Playoff.

First things first, though, and that starts with a very talented Navy team that is currently 6-1, its only loss to eighth-ranked Notre Dame. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds can make history Saturday. Reynolds tied Wisconsin’s Montee Ball last week when he rushed for his 77th career touchdown in the Midshipmen’s win over South Florida last week. The senior quarterback is the key to the Naval Academy’s triple option offense.

Oct 3, 2015; Annapolis, MD, USA; Navy Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) scrambles as Air Force Falcons linebacker Patrick Healy (41) applies pressure during the second quarter at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2015; Annapolis, MD, USA; Navy Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) scrambles as Air Force Falcons linebacker Patrick Healy (41) applies pressure during the second quarter at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Navy is currently fourth in the nation in rushing averaging 319.7 yards per game on the ground. Fuente and defensive coordinator Galen Scott will be challenged once again by an offense that is difficult to stop. The Tigers defense has gone up against four teams – Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Tulsa and Ole Miss – that are averaging over 500 yards of total offense per game. Scott’s unit has risen to the occasion each time. It is also worth noting that while Memphis gives up an average of 434.5 yards per game, the Tigers defense is 22nd nationally against the run yielding 120.5 yards per contest.

Oct 17, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) passes the ball against the Mississippi Rebels during the game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Memphis Tigers beat Mississippi Rebels 37-24. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) passes the ball against the Mississippi Rebels during the game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Memphis Tigers beat Mississippi Rebels 37-24. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The key for Memphis is, of course, establishing the tempo of the game with quarterback Paxton Lynch and the offense. The Tigers are third in the nation in scoring averaging 47.9 points per game. Lynch has thrown for over 300 yards in seven straight games and has 18 touchdowns on the season. The 6-7 junior is even more impressive when you consider that he is completing over 70 percent of his passes and has thrown just one interception.

The Navy-Memphis meeting Saturday will be the first time the two schools have ever met. It will be one of two key AAC games this weekend. Houston (8-0), which Memphis will face next week, takes on Cincinnati (5-3). All three games will have a huge impact on the AAC title game and the College Football Playoff.

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