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Everybody is wondering what the Houston Cougars have in store for an encore. No offense to Lamar, but last week’s game between the Cougars and the Cardinals was not an encore presentation. That comes this week at Nippert Stadium when Tom Herman’s team hits the road for a cross-division date with the Cincinnati Bearcats. There was a lot of hype for Tommy Tuberville’s team, particularly in the East Division of the American Athletic Conference going into the season. This will be a pretty good indication as to whether or not that buzz was justified.

Houston vs. Cincinnati College Football Preview

Date/Time: Thursday September 15, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

College Football Betting Odds from 5Dimes

College Football Betting Favorite: Houston -7

Total: N/A

We’ll update the total on this game once it is posted. The American Athletic Conference swallowed up the remaining parts of the Big East and pulled in some teams from Conference USA back in 2013. Since that happened, the Bearcats have claimed two of the three meetings between these teams, games that have all been decided by single digits. Cincinnati won the first two games by seven points and Houston won last year by a field goal at home in a 33-30 barnburner. Tom Herman is 15-1 at Houston and the Cougars are 10-5-1 against the number, depending on the price you got for last week’s Lamar game. The opening number was higher than the closing 42. Tommy Tuberville is 27-14 straight up with a 20-20-1 record against the number.

Houston Cougars:

Greg Ward Jr. watched from the sidelines last week as Paul Postma and the offense methodically won by 42. Ward threw for 321 yards in the win over Oklahoma in Week 1, but he failed to get going in the ground game. Duke Catalon, the Texas transfer, also sat out the win over Lamar with a sprained ankle. He ran for 88 yards and had a receiving touchdown against Oklahoma. The numbers are a little bit skewed for the Cougars offense since some key pieces sat out the Lamar win, but it is worth pointing out that Houston has 111 rushes against 66 passes through two games. Through games against UT-Martin and Purdue, the Bearcats defense has allowed an average of 140 rushing yards per game. Last season, the Cougars ran for 266 yards in this game on 62 carries.

The Houston defense pitched a shutout against Lamar, which will certainly skew some numbers. They gave up 393 yards, 323 of them through the air, against Oklahoma. The Sooners converted on 50 percent of their third down attempts in that opener, so the Cougars need to be able to get off the field in order to have success. Baker Mayfield completed 24 of his 33 attempts as the run game was hampered by the loss of Samaje Perine early in the game. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando got a big year from his defense in terms of takeaways last season when they forced 35. The Bearcats were -19 in turnover margin last season and their quarterbacks threw 22 interceptions, so that will be a big story going into this AAC matchup.

Cincinnati Bearcats:

Perception dropped quickly regarding the Cincinnati Bearcats. Former #1 QB recruit Gunner Kiel flamed out at Notre Dame and then couldn’t win the Cincinnati job over Hayden Moore. If that was strike one, struggling at home with UT-Martin was strike two. Strike three may have come last week when Cincinnati gave up over 500 yards to Purdue. But, the season actually starts for Cincinnati now and the rest was just window dressing. This is the game that they have had circled, as a top-10 team comes to Nippert Stadium. Nobody has ever questioned Cincinnati’s offense, which has averaged over 30 points per game since 2010. There have been some growing pains this season, as the top six pass catchers from last year are no longer with the team. Still, Moore is 40-of-66 for 510 yards and a 5/1 TD/INT ratio.

The defensive problems are all a matter of perspective. Cincinnati has allowed 27 points in two games. They gave up 504 yards to Purdue, but also forced five turnovers and gave up a decent chunk of that yardage while leading big in the second half. Purdue had just 232 yards heading into halftime and racked up 206 yards in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. After posting a -19 turnover margin last season, Cincinnati is +5 this year. However, UT-Martin had the ball for over 37 minutes in Week 1, as the Bearcats defense failed to get off the field on nine of 16 third-down attempts. Purdue was 10-of-17 last week. Perhaps the best nugget about Cincinnati’s defense is that they have a dude named Mike Tyson on the team.

College Football Free Pick: Cincinnati Bearcats +7

In three years of games, these teams have played three games within seven points or less. College kids can have a hard time focusing and games against UT-Martin and Purdue weren’t going to get the motor running for Cincinnati, yet they are 2-0. The last time Cincinnati was a dog of this many points at home, they beat Miami (FL) 34-23. That was last season. They haven’t caught a full TD + PAT at home since September 8, 2006. Houston comes in a little bit banged up and this is a Thursday nighter in a conference game with a good home field advantage, so the points look like a good play.

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