The Memphis Tigers are moving closer and closer to a third consecutive appearance in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. After taking care of SMU in their last game, the Tigers (8-1, 4-1 AAC) now own the inside track to the conference title game. This week, Memphis hits the road to take on a Houston team that has struggled to keep up in the division the last couple of seasons. And the current state of the Cougars (3-6, 1-4) appears to make them vulnerable at home against Memphis. With big aspirations within sight, Memphis will be more than ready to take care of some business to take their next step toward a possible conference championship and potential New Year's Six bowl bid.
Memphis at Houston
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Memphis -10.5
When Memphis Has the Ball
Don't expect Memphis to be challenged much by Houston's defense. The Cougars rank at the bottom of the AAC in total defense by allowing an average of 460.6 yards per game. Keep in mind this is a conference that also includes UConn, and the Huskies are allowing fewer yards per game than Houston. Two weeks ago against UCF, Houston allowed an average of 7.93 yards per play. Houston's defense has also given up at least 30 points to three of their last four opponents (UCF, SMU, Cincinnati). All of this is bad news for Houston because Memphis is rolling into this matchup hitting its stride on offense.
Memphis rolled up 514 yards of offense and 54 points against SMU in a massive game in the AAC West Division a couple of weeks ago. Quarterback Brady White has been turning in quite an impressive season with 2,511 yards and 23 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Damonte Coxie should have another big night with his receiving total and Antonio Gibson will give the Tigers a 1-2 combo fully capable of scoring touchdowns. Memphis also has one of the top running backs in the country with Kenneth Gainwell. The freshman has rushed for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and is a rising star in the making.
Houston also will be playing without cornerback Ka'Darian Smith due to an indefinite suspension this week.
When Houston Has the Ball
Houston may have lost some key players on offense to in-season decisions to sit out the year as a redshirt player, but Dana Holgorsen still has a few tricks up his sleeve. The problem is Holgorsen can't pull off enough magic against good opponents on Houston's schedule. Clayton Tune has taken on the role of starting quarterback for the Cougars and is coming off a 179-yard performance with one touchdown and one interception against UCF. Tune can pick up some yards with his feet, which will help, but the bulk of the rushing responsibility is put in the hands of Mulbah Car. Car rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns in Houston's last game. The senior could be ready to wrap up his college career on a productive note, if not a winning one.
Houston's key to an upset win may actually fall on the running game. Memphis has given up some yards on the ground this season, including 275 to Tulsa, 193 to Temple, and 256 to ULM. SMU stuck to the air and managed just 97 rushing yards against Memphis in the last game for the Tigers. If Houston's best strategy to slow down the Memphis offense is to keep them off the field, then the Houston running game has to be effective to run as much clock as possible.
This is a game that could have been much more vital to the AAC West Divison race this time of year, but now it may just be a blowout victory for Memphis. As Houston falls below the win requirement to go to a bowl game, Memphis will continue to place themselves in a position to play in their first New Year's Six bowl of the College Football Playoff era. Memphis explodes on offense in a rout in Houston.
Prediction: Memphis 42, Houston 24
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.