With Cincinnati remaining in the No. 4 spot in the latest CFP rankings, the ambiguity is gone. Beat a ranked, 11-win Houston Cougars team in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game Saturday, and the Bearcats become the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoffs.
There is at least one scenario where they end up on the outside looking in. But the only thing Cincinnati can control is what happens against Houston. However, while the Cougars are consensus 10.5-point underdogs across the industry, Houston did not win 11 games by accident.
NCAAF · Sat (12/4) @ 4:00pm ET
|UH Houston||at||CIN Cincinnati|
|Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH|
Our Pick: UH Houston at 15.0 (+130). Enjoy a $50 free bet and a $1,000 risk-free bet when you sign up with BetMGM today!
Houston Cougars (11-1 SU, 7-5 ATS)
Houston has quietly been one of the best teams in the nation this season following a season-opening loss to Texas Tech. The offense has averaged 420 yards and almost 39 points a game. But the Cougars are more than just a solid offensive team. Houston also happens to have an excellent defense.
The Cougars have held seven opponents to less than 100 yards rushing and average just 97 yards per game (best in the conference), not because teams are too busy passing on them. SMU is the only team to throw for more than 300 yards against them; the Houston defense averages less than 200 yards passing a game allowed.
As for points–since giving up 38 to Texas Tech, the defense has given up 30+ points twice and held six of 10 opponents to less than 20.
The team does have its faults, of course. Houston does not run the ball well, and the offensive line gives up too many plays in the backfield. But the defense makes up for it by leading the conference in sacks, tackles for a loss, turnover margin, rushing, and total defense.
Houston is a solid all-around team whose biggest issue appears to be penalties. The Cougars have averaged 6.5 penalties and 78 yards per game this season. However, with 11 wins, there is no denying that Houston is a good team. But they probably do not get the respect they deserve for the same reason critics have been slow to respect the Bearcats.
The Cougars have faced a weak schedule.
Cincinnati Bearcats (12-0 SU, 7-5 ATS)
Critics began showing Cincinnati some well-deserved respect when the Bearcats took down Notre Dame earlier in the season. By continuing to win while several other teams have faltered, they have moved up to No. 4 in the CFP rankings and have a great shot at making the playoffs. Some critics would still like to be convinced they deserve the spot.
A win over No. 21 Houston will go a long way towards convincing many, but it will not come easy–and there will be no room for error. Desmond Riddler will need to be his usual efficient self. The senior quarterback is one the most efficient QBs in the nation this season (11th). He has had multiple touchdown passes in all but two games this season, and he’s a legitimate threat in the run game as well.
The team will look more towards Jerome Ford to pace the running game, though. Ford has blossomed as the Bearcats primary running back this season with over 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns to his name.
But, like the Cougars, the strength of the team lies in the defense. The defense will need to live up to the high standard it has set this season (first in the conference in scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, passing yards allowed, and turnovers) if Cincinnati is going to keep the Houston offense from taking over the game.
However, like Houston, the Bearcats have struggled with penalties. Cincinnati is the second-most penalized team in the conference averaging 7.5 flags a game. But while they get flagged more than Houston, the Bearcats average fewer penalty yards per game (56.67).
Houston Vs. Cincinnati Pick
Houston +10.5 (available at DraftKings, PointsBet, FanDuel, and Caesars as of Wednesday morning)
Cincinnati will get the bulk of the attention all week with a chance at making history on the line. But it would be a mistake to overlook Houston. The Cougars are just as good if not better than the Bearcats in several statistical categories. But like Cincinnati, it is hard to know how good they are because they have played a relatively weak schedule.
While it will be great to see Cincinnati make the playoffs this year, Houston will make them earn it.
Also read: SEC Championship Betting Odds & Pick | MAC Championship Betting Odds & Analysis