West Division title on the line when Houston meets Memphis
The big cats of the American Athletic Conference’s West Division will play Friday night with the division title on the line.
It was an outcome most pundits expected at the beginning of the season, but the routes the teams took to get there were anything but ordinary.
Memphis lost three of its first four AAC matchups and has had to claw its way back into the West title conversation.
Houston started the season with a comeback win against rival Rice and then a blowout win against Arizona before an ugly defeat at the hands of Texas Tech.
The Cougars went on a run of victories that had it ranked No. 17 in the nation before a pair of losses sent the team tumbling down the rankings.
The losses to Temple and specifically SMU left Houston in need of a Memphis win against SMU to give Houston a chance, which happened last Friday.
But the Cougars will be without their leader, junior quarterback D’Eriq King, after he tore a meniscus in his right knee.
In his place will be either freshman Clayton Tune or senior quarterback Quinten Dormady. The depth chart has been King, then Tune, then Dormady during the season, and head coach Major Applewhite said after the Tulane game that the order would likely remain the same moving forward.
King’s injury is just the latest in a line of important injuries in the depth chart.
King, No. 2 running back Mulbah Car, No. 3 running back Terence Williams, No. 2 receiver Keith Corbin, No. 3 receiver Courtney Lark, No. 1 defensive tackle Ed Oliver, No. 1 defensive end Isaiah Chambers, No. 2 defensive end Jerard Carter, No. 3 defensive end Payton Turner and No. 1 defensive back Garrett Davis are all injured, and most are done for the season.
It will be a tough choice for Houston, as Tune and Dormady are both redshirting this season. A player can play in four games each season without burning their redshirt status, and Tune has played in three so far and Dormady in two.
If Tune plays against Memphis, he would not be able to play against UCF in the championship game or in Houston’s bowl game. Meanwhile, Applewhite said Dormady is interested in transferring to another school to finish his playing career, which he would be unable to do if he burns his redshirt.
Junior Darrell Henderson leads the Tigers on the ground with 1,521 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he had to come off the field multiple times against SMU to deal with a minor injury.
Memphis boasts three good running backs, but senior quarterback Brady White has not been great this season. He has been safe and reliable but not a huge playmaker for the Tigers. If Houston can stop the run and force White to throw, it would help Houston’s chance to win.
In Monday’s press conference, Applewhite said Oliver would practice again and could play against Memphis. With Oliver back, Houston’s run defense would be much improved and could force White into uncomfortable situations.
Even though Houston would have little chance of beating UCF in the championship game, a win against Memphis to take the West would be a good way to cap off an overall good season.