A potential preview of the American Athletic Conference championship game could take place this weekend as Houston hosts South Florida in a crossover matchup between division contenders. The Bulls travel to Houston with one of two undefeated records still standing in the AAC (the other is owned by UCF), but Houston has lost just once, and these Cougars appear poised to make a splash in the Group of 5.
If South Florida can once again avoid taking a loss, the Bulls will remain in good position to keep pace with UCF in the race to the New Year's Six, but Houston is not to be forgotten at 6-1. In fact, the Cougars may be UCF’s biggest threat the rest of the way. First, though, they must protect their home field against the Bulls.
South Florida at Houston
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Houston -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. South Florida has been winning some close games
Be prepared for a game that goes down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter if South Florida is on the field. Four of the Bulls' last five games have been decided by one possession, including last week’s 38-30 victory over UConn. The Bulls have been fortunate not to drop a game along the way considering that they have shown some flaws. Last week, the Bulls had three turnovers, but UConn was unable to turn that help into a win. The Bulls were also down 19-7 against Illinois before scoring 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Despite being undefeated, South Florida has been inconsistent enough to suggest that the Bulls are due to be snake-bitten at some point. Houston may have the best shot yet to do it.
2. Clash of running styles
The recipe for South Florida’s offense is to hand the ball off to workhorse junior running back Jordan Cronkrite. Cronkrite enters the week as the second-leading rusher in the AAC with 860 yards and six touchdowns with 18 rushing attempts per game (fourth-highest average in the conference). Cronkrite has rushed for at least 100 yards in five straight games, including a 300-yard performance against UMass.
Houston has similar rushing production, but the Cougars split the rushing yardage between running back Patrick Carr (407 rushing yards, 2 TDs) and quarterback D’Eriq King (281 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns). Houston may have the edge as it also defends the run very well, while South Florida has struggled. Even with playing Navy, Houston has the AAC’s second-best rushing defense, while South Florida has struggled against the run. UConn rushed for 322 yards last week, and Tulsa racked up 220 yards on the ground against South Florida in the game before that.
3. Houston’s opportunity to shine
UCF gets all of the love when discussing the AAC and the New Year's Six (or even the College Football Playoff), but both South Florida and Houston are in a position to de-throne the Knights this season. Houston, which not so long ago was expected to be a fixture in the New Year's Six conversation on a regular basis, has an opportunity to break into the conversation in a big way, just before the selection committee begins putting together its playoff rankings. A win against one of the last two undefeated teams in the AAC could come at a great time for Houston to build some momentum to make a run for the AAC title and the Group of 5 New Year's Six bowl spot expected to go with it.
South Florida’s streak of winning close calls appears destined to come to an end this week. Houston has won all of its games by double digits with the exception of its lone loss at Texas Tech, and the Cougars should be able to move the ball well at home against South Florida. More importantly, South Florida should have its hands full with Ed Oliver, who remains one of the top defensive players in the nation and is likely to have an impact despite the Bulls' best efforts.
Prediction: Houston 38, South Florida 24
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. 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.