It’s a non-conference battle between a pair of Lone Star State schools when the AAC locks up with Conference USA for H-town supremacy. The Houston Cougars are on the road as they take the quick trip to take on the Rice Owls Saturday afternoon. Houston finished 2017 with a 7-5 record, losing 33-27 to Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl. Rice was dismal last season, going 1-11 and leading to a coaching change. The Cougars own a 30-11 edge in the all-time series and have won four straight matchups, including a 38-3 win in the last meeting on September 16, 2017.
Houston Cougars Look for Oliver to Continue Wreaking Havoc
Houston had their ups and downs in the first season of the Major Applewhite era, finishing with a winning record for the fifth straight season. With that said, the Cougars’ seven wins were the fewest for the school since the 2012 team went 5-7. Houston still has the wrecking ball known as Ed Oliver at defensive tackle. He racked up 73 tackles (47 solo), 16.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three pass defenses, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery last season. Expect him to be a disruptive force once again this season as he lines up as a potential dark horse Heisman candidate.
The Cougars averaged a healthy 261.3 yards per game through the air last season while adding 166.8 yards per game on the ground. For the season, the team was smack in the middle offensively, ranking 65th in the FBS with 28.2 points per game. Defensively, the Cougars were 42nd in the country as they allowed 23.8 points a contest. Houston turns the QB duties over to D’Eriq King (90 of 139, 1260 yards, seven TD, two INT, 379 rushing yards, eight TD, 29 catches, 264 yards, two TD) on a full-time basis with Tennessee transfer Quintin Dormady in the mix as well. Mulbah Car (80 carries, 388 yards, three TD) is the team’s leading returning rusher. He’ll be in the mix with Baylor transfer Terence Williams (73 carries, 255 yards, TD), who ran for 1,048 yards and 11 scores in 2016. Raelon Singleton (36 receptions, 531 yards, four TD), who transferred from Utah, is going to be in the mix at the receiver position. He’ll battle with Courtney Lark (13 grabs, 235 yards, two TD) and Keith Corbin (10 catches, 164 yards) for targets, of which there are plenty to go around. Caden Novikoff drilled all 43 extra point attempts and 12 of 15 field goals last season with a long of 45.
Rice Owls Seek Improvement In 2018
Rice was awful last season, going 1-11 with their lone win coming over a hapless UTEP program in week 2 of the season. The Owls opened their season last Saturday by facing Prairie View A&M in a non-conference matchup hoping to get things off on a positive note. Rice has a lot of overhaul from a program that struggled in 2017 with several starters from each side of the ball missing from last season. In addition, the school has a new head coach, as Mike Bloomgren takes over after being Stanford’s offensive coordinator and line coach.
The Owls were miserable on both sides of the ball, ranking 125th in the FBS in offense (16.2 ppg) and 113th in scoring defense (35.8 ppg) on the year. Rice averaged just 144.8 yards per game through the air with only six touchdown passes all season last year. The Owls averaged 187 yards per game on the ground. Jackson Tyner (46 of 97, 598 yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions, 44 rushing yards, TD) is expected to be the starter at QB. Vanderbilt transfer Shawn Stakavage is expected to be the backup while Sam Glaesmann (32 of 72, 500 yards, three TD, six INT) moved to wide receiver. Austin Walter (69 carries, 400 yards, four TD), Emmanuel Esukpa (57 carries, 261 yards, TD) and Aston Walter (one carry, six yards) are all back in the mix. Aaron Cephus (25 catches, 622 yards, five TD) was the team’s leading receiver last year. Austin Trammell (four grabs, 51 yards) and Rhett Cardwell need to step up in the passing game. Haden Tobola (two of three extra points, one of one on field goals with a long of 23) and Jack Fox, who hit his lone extra point attempt last season, are back to share the kicking duties.
- Owls are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games in September
- Owls are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 home games
- Owls are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 non-conference games
- Cougars are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 vs. Conference USA
- Cougars are 14-5 ATS in their last 19 games in September
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Rice had the opportunity of knocking some of the offseason rust off before this one as they faced Prairie View A&M but their best chances here are grinding the clock and trying to keep Houston’s offense off the field. The Owls don’t have the weapons to win a shootout with anyone. It might be too much to ask for Rice to move the ball with Oliver making life miserable in the trenches. Houston’s defense shuts things down and drives the Cougars to victory.
Prediction: Houston Cougars -23.5
Full-Game Total Pick
Any improvement offensively will be taken by Rice given how abysmal they were last season. Averaging less than 150 yards a game through the air means that the Owls had to try and run the ball. When opposing teams know what’s coming, it makes it easier for the defense to get off the field. Houston is trying to work in some transfers at the skill positions offensively but with their defense, it might not matter. The Cougars added some talent on that side of the ball, which can only enhance their production this season.
The under is 4-0 in the Cougars’ last 4 games in September, 6-0 in their last six on the road, 5-1 in their last six non-conference games, 4-1 in their last five against Conference USA foes and 14-4 in their last 18 overall. Rice has seen the under 3-0-1 in their last four in September. The teams have stayed under the total in four of their last five meetings: look for this one to follow a similar trend.
Prediction: Under 54.5
Full-Game Prop Bet
While Rice scored on their first four possessions in their season opener, the fact remains that they still struggled to get the win over an overmatched Prairie View A&M program that is a FCS school playing in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Houston should have little problem contending with Rice’s defense to get the first points of the game on the board in this one.
Prediction: Houston Cougars to Score First -130
Half-Time Side Pick
It’s hard to really like what Rice brings to the table, even with a new head coach and a change in their system. After all, we just saw the Owls have to rally in the fourth quarter to beat Prairie View A&M on a field goal as time expired. Houston has plenty of weapons to work with and they have a very good defense. The Cougars should have a healthy advantage at intermission.
Prediction: Houston Cougars -16
Half-Time Total Bet
If Prairie View A&M can put up 21 in the first half against the Owls’ defense, what does that mean for an actual competent unit like the Cougars? Houston wasn’t overwhelming offensively last season under Applewhite but you have to think they’ll be able to move the ball against Rice. This one should easily go over at the half, even if the Cougars do most of the heavy lifting.
Prediction: Over 30.5 -115