The final game of the American Athletic Conference schedule has come for Navy and Houston, but the stakes will be no higher than playing for second place in the West Division. With Memphis already having the division locked up, the Midshipmen and Cougars will close out their conference schedule jockeying for a higher position in the AAC's bowl lineup and with a chance to clinch a winning season.
Under Ken Niumatalolo, Navy has posted winning seasons in five straight years and eight out of the last nine. One more win this season — against Houston, Army, or a potential bowl opponent — will add one more winning season to the tremendous legacy established under Niumatalolo in Annapolis.
On the other sideline, Major Applewhite is looking to wrap up his first season as a head coach on a winning note with his own winning record heading into the bowl season.
Navy at Houston
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 24 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Houston -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Another monster season for Ed Oliver
It's hard to comprehend that Oliver (above, right) is still just a sophomore, but that is a fact. The Outland Trophy finalist has recorded 11 tackles for a loss this season and is Houston's third-leading tackler with 55, 35 of which have been solo tackles. Oliver also leads the team with 3.5 sacks. With Navy's offense, don't look for many sacks from Oliver, but penetrating the Middies backfield will be key to disrupting Navy's rhythm with the triple option.
2. Can Zach Abey lead the option against Houston?
There is no disputing the importance of Navy's quarterback in this offensive system, but it is worth noting how vital Abey will be to Navy's chances of leaving Houston with the win. Abey will lead the option against the nation's 39th-ranked rushing defense a week after fighting for 87 yards on the ground against Notre Dame. Houston has better statistics against the run than the Irish, who have given up more than 200 rushing yards in each of their last three games.
3. QB D'Eriq King spices up Houston's offense
Though Houston took an upset loss to Tulane last week, it was another fun week of watching King, the Cougars' sophomore quarterback. In addition to passing for 225 yards (with one interception), King rushed for 141 yards and two scores. Since taking over as Houston's quarterback three weeks ago, King has rushed for five touchdowns and thrown four with only one interception. Look for him to try to mix things up with his arm and his feet against the Midshipmen.
Navy defeated Houston last year in Annapolis, and the Midshipmen could very well make it back-to-back wins over the Cougars. If Navy sticks to a game plan that is focused on draining the clock and moving the football into scoring opportunities, the Midshipmen should be able to squeeze the energy out of Houston. If Navy can wear down Houston's defense the way it did a year ago, the Middies will be returning home with the win.
Prediction: Navy 27, Houston 24
— 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 contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.