The no. 20 Washington State Cougars face a difficult test when they face the Houston Cougars to help kick off the college football action this weekend. Game time is at 9:15 EST on Friday, September 13 at NRG Stadium in Houston in what is technically a neutral site game despite Houston playing in its home city. The game can be seen on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Cougars as 9-point favorites on the road. The over/under for the game is an ambitious 70 points. Click here to check out all of this week’s college football odds.
Coming off a breakout 11-2 season in 2018, Washington State has started out the 2019 season 2-0. The Cougars have dismantled both New Mexico State and Northern Colorado in their first two games, scoring 58 and 59 points, respectively, in those two games while allowing a total of 24 points.
Of course, most expected the Cougars to steamroll both opponents. Wazzou now begins the difficult part of their schedule, as they have one more non-conference game before the start of Pac-12 play. For the Cougars, it’s all about winning the Pac-12 North, but they certainly don’t want to head into the Pac-12 season off a loss.
As for Houston, this will be their second game against a power-conference opponent this season. In their opener, the Cougars suffered a 49-31 loss at the hands of Oklahoma, although they did manage to beat the spread in that game. Houston followed up that loss with a win last week against FCS opponent Prairie View, jumping out to a 34-3 lead late in the first half before putting the game on cruise control in the second half.
This will be another great opportunity for the Cougars to get a marquee win over a ranked team early in the Dana Holgorsen era. It’s also worth noting that Houston faces a tough schedule in the American Conference and is on the road for three of their next four games. If the Cougars start the season 1-2, they could find themselves struggling to get to a bowl game later in the season given their schedule inside the American Conference.
This is a rare meeting between Washington State and Houston. The two schools haven’t met since the 1988 Aloha Bowl, which was a 24-22 win for Washington State. There’s no discernible history between the two teams, although both sets of Cougars should be hungry for a win on Friday.
This will be the first somewhat even matchup that either team plays this season, meaning we haven’t learned much about either side during the last two weeks. But from what I can tell, Washington State seems to have picked up where they left off last season. Despite playing weaker teams, they’ve looked good on both sides of the ball. More importantly, the spread in this game is reasonable for a team with WSU’s explosive offense, so I’ll lean toward Mike Leach’s team to win and cover.
The Wazzou air-raid offense has a new quarterback in Anthony Gordon, but that’s all that has changed since 2018. Many of the receivers are the same, and the Cougars already have six receivers who have at least 95 receiving yards over two games. Gordon isn’t relying on one or two receivers; he’s able to spread the ball around, which makes Washington State difficult to defend.
Along those same lines, the Houston defense has been a little bit of a disappointment. Admittedly, it’s a little unfair to judge them based on their season opener against Oklahoma. They gave up 49 points and nearly 700 yards against the Sooners. Obviously, a lot of teams this year will allow Oklahoma to post similar numbers. But I was hoping the Houston defense might put up a little more resistance in that game. The Washington State offense is just as dangerous as Oklahoma, so can see WSU pushing to crack the 50-point mark.
On the other side of the ball, I’ve also been a little disappointed with the play of Houston quarterback D’Eriq King this year. Perhaps the Oklahoma defense is better than expected, but I thought King would be able to do more, especially through the air. However, he hasn’t taken much of a step forward as a passer, completing just 55% of his passes with only three touchdowns over three games. He’s still a running threat, but in Holgorsen’s offense, I thought King and the Cougars would be able to do more through the air.
Defensively, Washington State is yet to receive a viable challenge this season. That should open the door for King and company to put some points on the board. However, Wazzou was underrated on defense last season. Also, King’s lack of accuracy throwing the ball is a little concerning to me. Ultimately, I think that will prevent Houston from keeping up in what is bound to be a high-scoring game. In the end, Washington State will keep scoring, allowing them to comfortably cover the 9-point spread.