Houston vs. Cincinnati Odds, Picks & Predictions: Bettors Debate Which Side to Back in AAC Championship Game (Saturday, Dec. 4)
Getty Images. Pictured: Clayton Tune (left) and Desmond Ridder.
Houston vs. Cincinnati Odds
-105o / -115u
-105o / -115u
Cincinnati finished the regular season undefeated for the second straight year and is on the cusp of being the first Group of 5 team to reach the College Football Playoff. Just about every college football fan wants them to get in, so naturally that means the idiots on the committee will most likely leave them out.
Dana Holgorsen took a really unique approach when he came to Houston in 2019. After a slow start to the season, he decided to basically redshirt his entire roster and take a “tanking” approach we typically don’t see in college football. He went just 7-13 in his first two years with the Cougars as he elected to prepare for the future.
Well, the future is now. After dropping its season opener to Texas Tech, Houston has won 11 straight games and has a chance to win its first AAC Championship since 2015 under Tom Herman.
Despite losing defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to Notre Dame, Cincinnati’s defense is still an elite unit. The Bearcats rank 13th in the country in Success Rate and are eighth in yards per game. They are widely regarded as one of the game’s top defenses.
So, why doesn’t this Cincinnati defense get more love? Because the Houston defense has been better, ranking fourth in the country in Success Rate and sixth in yards per game this season.
The Cincinnati defense ranks 30th against the rush and seventh against the pass. Well, Houston is 12th against the rush and second in the entire country against the pass. Cougars defensive coordinator Doug Belk was named a Broyles Award semifinalist and has his defense humming.
Houston’s biggest strength has been a dominant defensive line. Quarterbacks have had rough go against a Cougars front that ranks first in the nation in pass rush. Houston averages 3.4 sacks per game, 7.3 tackles for loss and 23 quarterback pressures per game.
What makes the Houston defense so difficult to keep out of the backfield is that it attacks the offense from every position and is super deep up front.
On the outside, D’Anthony Jones and David Anenih create a ton of pressure on the quarterback. Defensive tackles Logan Hall and Latrell Bankston push back the line of scrimmage and force tackles for loss from the inside.
And then there is swiss army knife Derek Parish, who Belk moves all over the field. He plays defensive end, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and sometimes even fullback. Parish leads the team in sacks and is so hard to game plan against.
The biggest area of weakness for this Cincinnati team is their offensive line. The Bearcats rank 82nd in pass blocking grade and 46th in Line Yards. They’re going to struggle against this Cougars front seven, which ranks seventh in Line Yards and fourth in Havoc.
The Bearcats are on the cusp of being the first Group of 5 team to reach the Playoff. Luke Fickell’s team is about to make history. Not just for the Bearcats, but for a whole swath of underappreciated college football teams.
Everybody and their mothers wants Cincinnati to win this game, and to do so convincingly. But, of course, nobody wants it more than Fickell coach and his players. And the Bearcats can’t risk anything given the morons on the CFP committee.
Is there any way that Cincinnati doesn’t blow out Houston Saturday? Hell, the Cougars might just let ‘em!
But, on the “off” chance that Holgorsen’s squad immorally try to spoil this historic opportunity, the Cougars simply don’t have the football team to accomplish that.
Houston is a fine football team, but Cincinnati’s level of dominance is unparalleled. The Bearcats led the AAC in both scoring offense and defense this season, scoring the most touchdowns in the conference (62) while allowing the fewest (22).
Cincinnati also recorded some marquee wins, with double-digit victories over Indiana and No. 9 Notre Dame. Houston, meanwhile, beat one ranked team this season in No. 19 SMU, and it allowed 37 points in the process.
When the Bearcats played SMU just a few weeks ago, they won by a score of 48-14.
The stats are equally impressive, and I’m ready to point them out in my rebuttals. But there’s no reason to overthink this. Look at the teams, look at the resumes and look at the context.
Houston wins 30-10 on Saturday. Book it.
Ianniello: I agree, the Bearcats need to blow out Houston. But how can we be so sure they will? Cincinnati has needed to win big all season. And while they took care of SMU, what about the other games down the stretch?
The Bearcats only beat Navy (3-8) by seven, Tulane (2-10) by 19, Tulsa (6-6) by eight, and South Florida (2-10) by 17. They failed to cover the spread in all of those games, four of their last six.
You think Houston is going to score just 10 points? They aren’t playing the 1985 Bears here. The Cougars have put up at least 30 points in eight straight games and are averaging 38.8 points per game, which is almost identical to Cincinnati.
The defense is the strength of this Cougars team, but don’t sleep on the offense either. Houston ranks 16th in the country in finishing drives and is the ninth best at creating big plays.
Quarterback Clayton Tune and the passing attack rank 17th in Passing Success rate, compared to Cincinnati, which sits 45th. The running game has really improved down the stretch, as well, as the Cougs have tallied 12 rushing scores in the last four games.
There’s playmaking all over the offense. Alton McCaskill is averaging more than five yards per carry and has 16 touchdowns this year. Nathaniel Dell is the best receiver in this game and leads the American with 11 touchdowns and is second with 1,027 receiving yards.
Cincinnati has held two teams to 10 or fewer points this year. Houston has kept four teams under that mark. Might need to adjust your math on that score prediction.
McGrath: I don’t think the Bearcats offensive line is much of a weakness. There are plenty of stats that show the success of that unit. It ranks 14th in preventing Havoc, 23rd in sack rate (4.6%), 30th in stuff rate (15.1%) and second in power success rate (91.2%).
Plus, the Bearcats are top-20 in Rush Success Rate behind this “weakness”. Cincinnati is rushing for 170 yards per game at 5.2 yards per carry.
And to expand on the Cincinnati offense, it’s led by Desmond Ritter, who’s PFF’s 13th-highest-graded quarterback, completing 65.7% of his passes with 27 touchdowns to eight interceptions.
As a result, Cincinnati is ninth in Standard Downs Success Rate, scoring 40 points per game by consistently moving the ball, something Houston hasn’t been as successful doing. (That’s called foreshadowing, children.)
Ianniello: Yes, Ritter ranks 13th according to PFF. Well, Tune is fourth.
Completing 65.7% of your passes is great, but it’s not as good as the 68.2% that Tune has completed this season.
Cincinnati has been great in standard downs, but the Houston defense is also sixth in standard down success rate. So, what happens when the Cougars defense has success early?
When forced into passing downs, the Bearcats offense ranks just 66th in Success rate. When they lose the ability to run the ball, they aren’t as effective. Houston on the other hand, is 17th in passing down.
So even if they get behind the chains, that doesn’t stall the drive the way it has for Cincinnati. Add in the Cougars ability to rush the passer, if the Bearcats don’t have success on early downs and need to throw the ball, they could be in trouble.
McGrath: Funny you talk about the Cougars offense. Because they’ve played nobody on defense.
Houston has played one top-70 scoring defense this season in East Carolina. The Cougars played five teams that are outside the top 100 in points per game allowed. The Cougars are going to be shell shocked when they play this Bearcats defense.
Plus, those rushing touchdowns don’t say too much. The Cougars are 115th in Line Yards and 85th in Rush Success Rate. As a result, the Cougars don’t move the ball consistently, ranking 86th in Standard Downs Success Rate.
Houston can be all fancy with their big plays and strong-armed quarterback, but I’m quite confident in my score prediction when you consider the Cougars won’t move the ball on the ground. Besides, Cincinnati ranks 18th in preventing Explosiveness and second in PFF’s coverage grades, so I’m even more confident that Houston’s offense will be incapable on Saturday.
Ianniello: Bet Houston +10.5
Look, I want Cincinnati to win. I want the Bearcats in the Playoff. I’m not even saying I think Houston will win this game. I’m saying 10.5 is way too many points.
This Bearcats team is not as good as last year’s, and it’s getting priced a little high because people want it to blow teams out. But Cincinnati hasn’t done that consistently all season.
Houston has an elite defense, with the best defensive line in the AAC by far. That unit is capable of dominating a game and making life extremely difficult for Ridder.
On the other side, Tune has been terrific this year and even if the Bearcats do go up, Tune is good enough to keep the Cougars alive and this back door opens the entire game.
McGrath: Bet Cincinnati -10.5
In the playoff era, Power 5 and AAC favorites of greater than four points in conference championship games are 28-1 straight-up. Those teams haven’t just won those games, they’ve dominated against the spread as well.
The Bearcats are going to win this game. When they do, it’s very likely they win convincingly, especially because they must. Cincinnati is the better team with a better coach. The Bearcats also have history on their side and the whole nation rooting for them.
This might seem like a scary number to lay, but it’s really not. At all. In fact, it’s the right bet.