MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Wide receiver Anthony Miller walked on at Memphis without a single college scholarship offer out of high school.
Riley Ferguson was a quarterback question mark after an unsuccessful stint at Tennessee, out of college football and working odd jobs before a one-year stop at a Kansas community college ultimately led him to the Tigers.
They have become one of the top QB-wideout tandems in Memphis history.
”Those two are dynamic players, there’s no question about it,” Central Florida coach Scott Frost said. ”Two of the best players in our league and in the country.”
Ferguson and Miller are a major reason why the No. 16 Tigers (10-1, 7-1, No. 20 CFP) face Frost’s undefeated 12th-ranked Knights (11-0, 8-0, No. 14 CFP) in Orlando, Florida on Saturday for the conference championship. The winner is expected to earn a New Year’s Day bowl berth, most likely the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
The connection between the unlikely duo developed quickly after they met two years ago. New Memphis coach Mike Norvell brought Ferguson to campus to replace 2016 Denver Broncos first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch , and the quarterback arrived knowing the fast and shifty Miller was one of the Tigers’ best receivers.
”I just wanted to start building our chemistry,” Ferguson said. ”We used to stay after practice and throw routes and just talk to each other. .Over time, we’ve just practiced together, and I think our chemistry has just gotten better every single day.”
That kinship resulted in a pair that set a load of Memphis passing and receiving records. Miller’s share of those standards came after arriving as a walk-on from Christian Brothers High in Memphis. That and being left off finalist lists as the top receiver in the country have provided extra motivation for Miller.
”I actually don’t think I had any stars (ranking of recruits) coming out of high school or any offers,” Miller said. ”I took my chance (on accepting a preferred walk-on status), and it turned out to be a great decision.”
Miller has 78 receptions this year and is averaging 110 yards receiving per game. Ferguson has completed 62 percent of his passes, 32 for touchdowns, including 14 to Miller. Ferguson has thrown eight interceptions.
Three of those picks came against Central Florida (11-0, 8-0, No. 14 CFP) in a 40-13 loss Sept. 30 . It was the Tigers’ lone loss of the season, and by far their worst performance.
The Tigers believe they are much better than two months ago, and their scoring reflects that improvement. Since the loss, the Tigers have won seven straight and are averaging more than 53 points a game over that span. The Ferguson-Miller combination has been a major portion of the offensive outburst.
”Riley knows all the things I do as a receiver as far as the extra sauce I may put on a route, or how I run the route,” Miller said. ”He’s just a great quarterback. He knows how to throw any ball.”
The Tigers already have accomplished several of their goals. They went undefeated for the first time at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, the team’s home field since 1965. They also exceeded 10 regular-season wins and captured a division crown.
Now, the goal is to reverse the only loss of the season with much more on the line this time.
And the Tigers believe they are better.
”I think just the maturity and knowledge of the offense and the things we can and can’t do,” Ferguson said of the difference.
Miller said they understand the magnitude of this game.
”This is by far the biggest game of the season, the conference championship,” Miller added. ”. We can’t wait to bring that win home.”
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