Preparing three times in a season to play the same opponent three different times in the same season is almost unheard in Football Bowl Subdivision conferences.
Welcome to Saturday’s American Athletic Conference championship matchup between No. 16 Memphis and No. 12 Central Florida.
The teams were scheduled to meet on Sept. 9 but that game was moved to Sept. 30 due to Hurricane Irma. When they did play, the Knights won 40-13 on the strength of a season-high 350 rushing yards.
Familiarity can breed contempt, and with a conference championship and a possible spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game at stake on Saturday, preparations the third time around should be intense.
“You don’t play people twice much less have three chances” to prepare for them, UCF coach Scott Frost said. “It is always dangerous playing a team more than once. They’ve shown their cards, you’ve shown yours. We have to make sure we’re doing some fresh new things.”
Memphis coach Mike Norvell said they spent part of the preseason preparing for UCF because the matchup was scheduled to be the second game of the season. Norvell is familiar being in a rematch with a championship on the line. He was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State in 2013 when the Sun Devils squared off against Stanford twice.
Norvell said the main thing he learned from that experience was that evaluating his own teams is as important as sizing up the opponent.
“We need to realize who we are and what we are good at,” he said. “There are things that went on during that first game where we did have success and we need to build off of that.”
Both teams are making their first appearance in the conference championship game, which is in its third year. UCF is going for its third conference title in five seasons (it won it outright in 2013 and shared it with Memphis and Cincinnati in 2014).
The game matches the highest scoring teams in the nation. The Knights, who are one of two remaining unbeaten teams in FBS at 11-0 and 8-0 in the AAC (No. 15 CFP), have scored 30 or more points in all 11 games and are averaging 48.3 points per game. The Tigers (10-1, 7-1 AAC, No. 20 CFP) are averaging 47 points but are at 53.7 during its seven-game winning streak.
Frost’s biggest concern going into the week is making sure his team is able to bounce back after an emotional 49-42 win last Friday against South Florida . The Knights have had to play 11 straight weeks due to Hurricane Irma adjusting their schedule and had a short week to prepare for the Bulls. Frost gave the team the weekend off before practices resumed on Monday to prepare for Memphis.
“My first question for them this morning was ‘you got enough juice for one more?’ There was an enthusiastic response,” Frost said. “I told them that we’re done patting ourselves on the back over that game. It’s time to go back to work.”
The Tigers have scored 50 or more points in three of their last four games, including a 70-13 win over East Carolina Saturday. Norvell is hoping they can put together another complete game.
“They’ve responded to each situation. Each and every week they have played at a high level,” he said. “We get to play a phenomenal team, one that is tremendous in every phase of the game. We know the opponent.”