Houston Cougars Football Preview

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And so it arrives: a final, fateful firefight that will go a long way toward deciding who wins Conference USA’s West Division. The title won’t be wrapped up this weekend, but it is likely to be determined one way or the other.

When the Tulsa Golden Hurricane face the Houston Cougars this weekend in H-Town, all the poker chips are in full view, with nothing held back. Since the top three teams in C-USA are Houston, Tulsa and SMU, this game is the final installment in the three-team round-robin. SMU beat Tulsa earlier in the year while Houston beat SMU. A Houston win would give the Cougars head-to-head wins over each of their two foes. Given that Houston and SMU have just two conference games remaining (Tulsa has three, including this one), Houston would gain considerable leverage in the West if it managed to lock down this win over Tulsa. With a triumph over the visiting Golden Hurricane, Houston would be able to clinch the division on Nov. 20 with either a victory over Southern Miss or an SMU loss to Marshall. SMU also has to visit East Carolina on Thanksgiving weekend, so it’s clear that a Houston win over Tulsa would bring Coach Kevin Sumlin’s crew to the brink of another division title.

 As for Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane would knock Houston out of the West lead with a win at Robertson Stadium. They’d still be tied with SMU for the division lead and would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker, but since SMU’s road trip to East Carolina is daunting, Tulsa – who finishes with a pair of home games against Southern Miss and a wobbling UTEP team – would be in position to finish 6-2 in the league and force SMU to win in Greenville against those pesky ECU Pirates. Tulsa would be the favorite in the West if it can go into the Lone Star State and put away a foe that has been persistent despite a lot of bad luck under center.

It seems relatively simple to determine which team will win Saturday’s clash between Tulsa and Houston: The winner will be whichever team has the pigskin last in this matchup of high-powered offenses and porous defenses.  The visiting Golden Hurricane roll into Saturday’s game averaging 40.1 points and 494.7 yards of offense following last Saturday’s 64-27 shellacking of Rice, while the Cougars are putting up 40.7 points and 475.7 yards of total offense per game. 

Neither team fares as well on the defensive side of the ball.  The Coogs are conceding 29.3 points and 405.7 yards of total offense per game, which isn’t good by any stretch or measure. However, those totals aren’t nearly as bad as the Golden Hurricane, whose sieve-like pass defense has been torched for 25 touchdowns and is conceding 318.4 yards per game. 

That’s bad news for Coach Todd Graham’s group since Houston’s freshman quarterback David Piland seems to have found his stride.  Piland has completed 119-of-201 passes for 1,442 yards and 15 touchdowns to go along with five interceptions in five games as Houston’s starting quarterback.  Junior wideout Patrick Edwards, with 801 yards and 11 touchdowns, has emerged as Piland’s favorite target, catching 10 touchdown passes since Piland became the starter. Edwards hasn’t missed a beat in a year when Houston, due to injuries, has had to use four different quarterbacks. The Cougars would probably own a comfortable lead in their division if Case Keenum had been able to play the conference slate. As it is, they’re still tied for the lead, a somewhat remarkable and entirely noteworthy achievement.

As for the Golden Hurricane, they love an old-fashioned C-USA shootout.  Tulsa has outscored opponents by an average score of 48-26 in reeling off a three-game winning streak.  Opposing defenses have found it impossible to contain Tulsa’s junior playmaking wide receiver Damaris Johnson, who has accounted for five touchdowns in his last two games, hauling in three touchdown passes and returning two kicks for six points.  His trigger man, junior quarterback G.J. Kinne, has orchestrated the Tulsa aerial attack with aplomb all season, throwing for 2,422 yards and 20 touchdowns. 

Tulsa. Houston. The winner gains leverage, while the loser would need a miracle to advance to the C-USA title game. It’s time for some six-shootin’, gunslingin’ action with a division title very much on the line in the wild, wild West.

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