The American Athletic Conference gets things started in college football this week as the undefeated and no. 16 SMU Mustangs take on the Houston Cougars. Game time is at 7:30 EST on Thursday, October 24 at TDECU Stadium in Houston. Fans can watch the game on ESPN.
The early betting line for this game has SMU favored by 13.5 points on the road with an over/under of 66 points. Be sure to check out a complete list of this week’s college football betting odds.
As mentioned, the Mustangs remain undefeated more than halfway through the regular season. SMU has had some close games over the likes of TCU and Tulsa, but they are fresh off a convincing 45-21 win over Temple. They are just one of two undefeated teams that remain outside the power conferences, putting them in pole position to play in a New Year’s Day bowl game if they run the table. Even if they can’t stay undefeated, the Mustangs are still in the running to win their first conference championship since 1984, before they were given the “Death Penalty,” and their first division championship since 2010.
As for Houston, everything that SMU has accomplished this year is what the Cougars thought they were capable of doing at the start of the season. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way for Houston. After starting the year 1-3, quarterback D’Eriq King decided to redshirt so he could return next season and get another chance to lead the Cougars to a New Year’s Day bowl. Houston has managed to win two of their last three games without him. However, they still sit at 3-4 overall and need three wins in their final five games to reach a bowl game. Given their schedule, that won’t be easy, so pulling off an upset over SMU would be huge for Houston’s bowl hopes.
The Cougars have also lost two of their last three head-to-head meetings with SMU. That includes a loss in 2016 that cost Houston a chance to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl. On the bright side, the Cougars have won six straight home games against the Mustangs, who haven’t won in Houston since 2005.
I went against SMU last week thinking they were due for a loss and I’m not going to make that same mistake this week. The Mustangs may actually be good enough to survive the season undefeated. To be honest, this isn’t even one of their more difficult games left on their schedule, even if these two Texas schools have a bit of a rivalry. This is a game the Mustangs are more than capable of winning by at least two touchdowns, so I’ll lay down the points and take SMU to cover.
The biggest reason for SMU’s success this year has been Texas transfer Shane Buechele at quarterback. He’s been excellent all season and may have had one of his best games last week against a tough Temple defense, airing it out for over 450 yards and six touchdowns. He’s also been able to limit himself to just six interceptions in seven games this season despite already throwing for over 2,000 yards.
Perhaps more importantly, Buechele is getting plenty of help around him. The SMU offensive line has kept him upright, allowing just eight sacks in seven games. The Mustangs also have an impressive rushing attack behind senior Xavier Jones. He’s rushed for over 100 yards five times this season, finding the end zone 14 times, including twice as a receiver. With that kind of balance, it’s no wonder SMU has scored over 40 points in six straight games.
Looking at how potent the SMU offense can be, I have some concerns about the Houston defense being able to contain them for 60 minutes. The Cougars have been vulnerable when facing some of the better teams on their schedule, yielding 38 points against both Tulane and Cincinnati. I don’t think either of those teams is nearly as talented offensively as SMU, which makes me think the Mustangs should have no problem scoring 40-plus points again.
Meanwhile, there are serious questions facing the Houston offense. Quarterback Clayton Tune, who took over for King after four games, missed last week’s win over UConn due to injury and may not make it back in time for a Thursday game this week. Logan Holgorsen, son of head coach Dana Holgorsen, split duties at quarterback with Bryson Smith in the win. But the Cougars only scored 24 points against a 1-6 UConn team that’s giving up 38 points per game. The Cougars have been lacking in the passing game since King decided to redshirt, which makes me think they’ll struggle to keep up with SMU in a shootout.
Admittedly, the SMU defense is nothing special, which makes me a little wary of laying down two touchdowns. But I don’t trust the Houston offense to take full advantage of the SMU defense any more than I trust the Houston defense to slow down the SMU offense. This game should be close at halftime, but I think the Mustangs will pull away in the second half and cover the spread.