The Houston Cougars look to remain in the hunt for a big bowl opportunity and look to continue to keep up the pace in a competitive American Athletic Conference West race with Memphis and Navy. To do that they will need to go on the road and win a Friday night game at Tulane.
The pressure is going to be heating up in the division moving forward, and Houston head coach Tom Herman will continue to rise as a very trendy name in the ongoing coaching rumor mill with new openings at places like Maryland, South Carolina and USC recently opening up. In his first year at Houston, all Herman is focusing on now is coaching Houston to a win against Tulane.
Houston at Tulane
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Houston -19
Three Things To Watch
1. Forget about keeping pace with Houston. Can Tulane find any offense?
Aside from games against Maine, an FCS team, and UCF, one of the worst FBS programs so far, Tulane's offense has struggled in a big way to put any points on the scoreboard this season. Against Duke, Georgia Tech and Temple, Tulane has managed to score just three touchdowns and two field goals. Houston is another one of the top opponents Tulane has faced this season, which means the outlook may not look so good for scoring opportunities.
Tulane struggles to score points because the offense struggles to move the football. Through five games, Tulane is averaging 304.2 yards per game on offense, good for 11th in the 12-member conference for total offense (only UCF is worse).
2. Watch Greg Ward Jr. pass, now watch him run
There are some good quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference. Junior Greg Ward Jr. of Houston is one you should be paying attention to. Having Tom Herman, who last year coached up J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones at Ohio State, has certainly had an impact on the development of Ward so far this season. Ward was already completing a commendable 67.3 percent of his pass attempts last season with 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions, but this year he has been an even more efficient passer. Ward's completion percentage is up five points (72.5 completion percentage) and he has already tossed eight touchdowns with just one intercepted pass.
But wait, there's more! Ward has been the best dual-threat quarterback in the American Athletic Conference by showing off what he can down with his legs. Ward is fourth in the AAC in rushing with 554 yards and a conference-leading 11 touchdowns. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds leads the AAC with 698 rushing yards, but Ward Jr. has the passing skill that makes him the top dual-threat in the conference.
3. Tulane is twice as likely to have a turnover than Houston
Both teams have played five games at this point in the season, so the math is fair to use in saying Tulane is twice as likely to have a turnover than the Cougars. Houston has lost the football four times with three fumbles and one interception. Houston is tied with Navy for the fewest turnovers on offense so far. Tulane has not done too poorly in the turnover margin department, but the Green Wave have lost the football eight times in five games.
Tulane has forced 12 turnovers to help make up for the lost opportunities (+4 turnover margin), but Houston also leads the AAC in takeaways with 14, giving the Cougars a conference-leading plus-10 turnover margin. The next closest in that department is Navy (+6).
On paper, Houston is the clear favorite to win this game. In Las Vegas, Houston is the clear favorite to win this game. There is no reason to over think this one. Houston has the offense and a largely overlooked defense that should be more than equipped to take care of business on the road against Tulane to keep their unbeaten record intact. Houston is in the midst of a very manageable portion of their schedule with SMU last week, Tulane on Friday night and upcoming games against UCF and Vanderbilt before getting to a challenging backend of the schedule. Houston cannot afford to slip up now before getting to November, and they should not have to worry about doing so here. Houston will start strong and finish strong to go 6-0.
Prediction: Houston 42, Tulane 23
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.