The American Athletic Conference championship game is now set, and it’s going to be a rematch. Memphis (8-4, 5-3 AAC) clinched a return trip to the conference championship game on Friday afternoon with a 52-31 victory over Houston (8-4, 5-3 AAC) in a game that determined the AAC West Division crown. Darrell Henderson‘s big day on the ground fueled the Memphis clincher for the division, with his 60-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter giving the Tigers a two-score lead.
What was a back-and-forth type of game with momentum swings at every turn became a game in which Memphis took control in the fourth quarter. The Tigers scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, which started with the game tied at 31-31. Houston’s offense struggled to find the plays that had been available earlier and the defense was leaving hole son the ground with Ed Oliver out of action for much of the afternoon. Oliver did return and started the game for the Cougars after missing some playing time in recent weeks, but he was limited to the sideline for much of the afternoon in what could be a disappointing end to his time in a Houston uniform. When Oliver was in the game in the first half, Memphis struggled to get much offense running, especially on the ground.
Henderson rushed for 177 yards and a touchdown and Patrick Taylor accompanied that with 111 rushing yards and two scores as Memphis combined for 353 rushing yards against a reeling Houston defense. Memphis will hope to carry over that momentum on the ground in the AAC Championship Game next week when they face UCF for a second-straight year. Henderson broke the single-season rushing record in the AAC by passing James Flanders of Tulsa by ending his day with 1,699 yards for the regular season, exceeding Flanders’ 2016 total of 1,629 yards.
Houston attempted to make plays happen through the air with backup quarterback Clayton Tune taking over for an injured D’Eriq King, but the consistency through the air never materialized as the game went on. Tune did throw three touchdowns but he completed just 18 of 43 pass attempts and was intercepted in the end zone late in the game on Houston’s last scoring chance of the afternoon. Memphis quarterback Brady White had a rough end to the first half with two interceptions thrown, both by Houston’s Gleson Sprewell who returned one for a long touchdown, but White had the luzury of falling back and letting the running game take control.
UCF will host Memphis for the second straight year in the AAC Championship Game, and once again UCF is looking to book a trip to a New Years Six bowl game. Memphis, who lost in overtime to the Knights in last year’s AAC title game and came up just shy of edging UCF earlier this season, could play the ultimate spoiler and open the door up for a spot in the New Years Six for a team from the Mountain West Conference, which would be the conference most likely to capitalize on any sudden shortcomings by UCF. However, UCF has won each of the last three meetings between the two programs.
UCF will host Memphis on December 1 for the AAC Championship Game. Houston, after losing three of their final four games as key injuries piled up, will wait to learn their bowl destination.
With the upcoming departure of UConn from the American Athletic Conference, the staus of the AAC Championship Game is officially in question. Without 12 football-playing members, the AAC does not satisfy the NCAA requirement to play an official conference championship game without a waiver. Not wanting to give up the title game just a few short years after implementing it (and accepting the extra revenue generated in the TV contract), AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is hoping to get some positive word on a waiver request sometime soon.
It looks like we may have an update on this situation within the month. The sooner, the better.
UConn is leaving the AAC after this current football season, and Aresco has made it clear the conference still wants to continue playing its conference title game. The current plan is for the AAC to scrap the two-division format entirely and pit the two best teams in a conference championship game at the end of the regular season (an idea that would work well in almost every conference, by the way). The AAC reportedly field a formal waiver to allow for the championship game to live on back in August.
The Big 12 currently only has 10 members and has been granted permission to field a conference championship game on top of the round-robin schedule played during the season. If the Big 12 can have a conference title game without 12 members, then the AAC should be getting confirmation their conference championship game will continue too. But waiting for the official word is needed before the conference can start making plans for 2020 and beyond.
At this point, there remains no sign the conference is looking to add a 12th member for football, which would negate the need for a waiver. But if the waiver is denied, for some reason, then expect the AAC expansion rumors to start flying once again.
The NCAA transfer portal has been busy this Monday. Add Michigan tight end Mustapha Muhammad as one of the latest entrants into the transfer portal. Muhammad made the transfer portal news himself with an announcement on his Twitter account Monday afternoon.
Muhammad is a redshirt freshman. He will have to sit out the 2020 season if he lands at another FBS program, and he will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning 2021. By entering the transfer portal, Muhammad is free to have contact with any other football program looking to recruit him out of Ann Arbor. The Texas native signed with Michigan over offers from Ohio State, Alabama, and Clemson, among others. Unfortunately, the highly rated recruit hasn’t been able to establish a key role in the Michigan offense early on, even with the Wolverines offense looking for playmakers.
Michigan’s tight end position appears to be settled with Nick Eubanks and Sean McKeon reaching the midway point of the season as Michigan’s leading tight ends when it comes to receiving yards. Eubanks is fifth on the team overall with 128 receiving yards and a touchdown. McKeon has added 96 yards and two touchdowns. Both players are seniors, however, but Michigan also has redshirt freshman Luke Schoonmaker as an option at the tight end position moving forward.
Oregon defensive back Kahlef Hailassie is now officially on the market. Hailassie announced on his Twitter account on Monday afternoon he has officially entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal.
A sophomore and a member of Oregon’s Class of 2018, Hailassie is now eligible to have contact with any other college football program that may be interested in recruiting him to their program. when he committed to the Ducks out of high school, Hailassie chose Oregon over offers from Colorado and Washington State, among others. Hailassie had previously committed to Colorado during his recruiting process, only to de-commit shortly after an official visit to Boulder.
Hailassie played in just three games this season before being sidelined with an injury. Because he has played in fewer than four games, Hailassie can use the 2019 season as a redshirt year. Hailassie played in all 13 games for Oregon as a true freshman in 2018, recording one tackle as a reserve player and a special teams player. Hailassie will have to sit out the 2020 season if he ends up at another FBS program, which would make him eligible to return to the field with two full years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2021.
It turns out the leg injury suffered by Oregon tight end Jake Breeland was pretty serious. Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal confirmed the news on Monday that Breeland will miss the remainder of the 2019 season with a left leg injury.
“It hurts you personally and it hurts everyone when a guy that’s worked so hard, has overcome as much as he has and the type of season he was having, to have to endure something like this,” Cristobal said in a press conference on Monday, according to The Oregonian. “He’s ready to attack the whole process of getting healthy again so he can play again.”
Breeland will have his 2019 season brought to a premature close after leading the team with 405 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Oregon’s receivers have been banged up at times already this season, and losing the top tight end in the offense won’t make things any easier. Oregon visits Washington this week for a pivotal Pac-12 North matchup with the defending conference champions.
So, who replaces Breeland at the position? Oregon’s latest depth chart currently has Ryan Bay and Hunter Kampmoyer filling the top spots at the tight end positions for the Ducks. Bay, a senior, has appeared in all six games and has caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown. Kampmoyer, a junior, has caught one pass for 21 yards and a touchdown in six games this season.