Two former Conference USA rivals clash as members of the fledging American Athletic Conference Saturday when the improved Memphis Tigers (1-3, 0-1 away) pay a visit to the Houston Cougars (4-0, 1-0 home) at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, TX at 12:00 Noon ET in a game carried nationally on ESPNews.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Memphis as a nice underdog for this contest with the current line at +9½ with odds of -106.
Memphis comes off of a dismal season last year in its last in Conference USA where it began the year 1-8, but the Tigers did then win their final three games and that improvement has continued into this season. Granted they are just 1-3 straight up in 2013, but they have been competitive in every game while going 3-1 ATS.
Houston is undefeated at 4-0, but we have been down this road before with the Cougars getting off to fast starts vs. a very weak non-conference schedule before stumbling in conference play. Well, their conference affiliation has changed, but will they change that pattern?
Memphis has covered three straight games since failing to do so opening week in a 28-14 loss to Duke, but even there the game was tied 14-14 before the Tigers allowed the last two touchdowns as 3½-point underdogs. They have been very pesky since then though, first going on the road and taking Middle Tennessee State down to the wire in a tough 17-15 loss, then winning their first game of the year in rather emphatic fashion with a 31-7 rout of Arkansas State.
They followed up that outright win with their third straight cover last week in a 24-17 loss to Central Florida, the same Central Florida team that gave the South Carolina Gamecocks out of the mighty SEC all that they can handle the previous week. You may notice that all four Memphis games have come vs. FBS competition, and yes the Tigers rank in the top 20 nationally (16th to be exact ) in total defense allowing just 320.8 yards per game.
Granted the offense ranks just 93rd and they are averaging only 19.2 points per game, but the Tigers do have a nice running back in Brandon Hayes that has rushed for 307 yards on an impressive 5.1 yards per carry, and they should allow them to work some clock here to shorten the game.
Now on the surface, it would appear that Memphis’s defensive standing should face a stiff challenge vs. a 4-0 Houston team whose last three wins have all come on the road and that is averaging 43.5 points and 534.0 yards per game. However, in keeping with past years when the Cougars padded their schedule, they opened up the season with a 62-13 walkover vs. Southern University of the FCS, and the three road wins came over Rice, Temple and Texas-San Antonio.
Add that all up and you end up with a Houston team that ranks 136th in the country in SOS, with only Cincinnati have an easier schedule inside the AAC (152nd). Memphis ranks 86th in SOS which, while below average, is still much better then Houston’s ranking. Despite that soft slate, the Cougars are still allowing 407.0 total yards per game, so Hayes and the Tigers should have success in controlling the clock.
A good running back, and good defense and a better schedule are all good traits for an underdog, so take the points with Memphis on Saturday.
College Football Pick: Memphis +9½ (-106)