Memphis-Cincinnati prediction, line: Take a shot on Bearcats

With apologies to Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again as Cincinnati faces Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game Saturday, just eight days after meeting in the regular-season finale.

Memphis won that game, 34-24, last Friday, but didn’t cover after closing as a 13¹/₂-point home favorite. Memphis entered that game ranked No. 18 while Cincinnati was No. 19, so we were in agreement that there wasn’t that much difference between these two teams and took the points. Circa opened Memphis -11¹/₂ for this rematch and we again took the underdog Bearcats as we expect them to close the gap.

Other sharp bettors have helped push this line down to single digits, but we still see value on Cincinnati at anything more than a touchdown.

Heck, I’m not so sure Cincinnati isn’t the better team, period. The Bearcats hadn’t lost since Sept. 7 to now-No. 1 Ohio State (no shame in that) and two weeks ago they beat Temple, the only team to defeat Memphis this season, while their performances against other common opponents are pretty similar.

I’m not saying Cincinnati didn’t want to win last week, but the fact is it still won the East Division of the AAC and is in this title game, so the Bearcats didn’t have as much incentive to show everything.

In fact, coach Luke Fickell played red-shirt freshman QB Ben Bryant and still went toe-to-toe with the Tigers, who benefited from returning the opening kickoff for a TD; otherwise, the rest of the game was pretty even.

Fickell has said sophomore Desmond Ridder (21-3 as a starter) will start if he has recovered enough from his shoulder injury, but Cincy showed it can compete with Bryant, who threw for 229 yards and a touchdown (while running for another), though he made some freshman mistakes with three turnovers. So, I expect the offense to perform better with either quarterback. Meanwhile, even though Memphis scored 34 points (again, aided by the kick return for a TD), the Cincinnati defense still only allows 21.1 points per game and held Memphis QB Brady White to just 233 yards passing and below the Tigers’ season-long averages in yards and points.

This title game should come down to the wire, so the generous points could very well come into play, though Cincinnati is also worth a look to win outright at +260 on the money line.

The play: Cincinnati, +9.

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