There may be three undefeated teams standing in the American Athletic Conference East Division, but the Houston Cougars look to prove why they are a legitimate contender in the AAC on Thursday night with a home game against a struggling Tulsa program.
The Cougars open conference play with defensive lineman Ed Oliver being the household name, but quarterback D’Eriq King has a chance to make a name for himself as well. Houston will look to take to the air early and often as they try to convince viewers that there is more to the AAC than just UCF and South Florida (and Cincinnati).
Tulsa at Houston
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Houston -18.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Houston’s second-ranked scoring offense poses a big challenge for Tulsa
Houston will come into the Thursday night matchup having given scoreboard operators plenty of work to do this season. The Cougars have scored 52.3 points per game this season, trailing only Alabama a week after both Ohio State and Penn State took their scoring averages down a few spots. Houston has scored 29 touchdowns and just two field goals in four games. Houston is one of three teams in the nation to eclipse the 200-point mark in as few as four games. Meanwhile, Tulsa has allowed 28.8 points per game. Temple’s 31 points against Tulsa on Sept. 20 are the most allowed by Tulsa this season. Expect that to change Thursday night.
2. D’Eriq King flying under the radar as the AAC’s best quarterback?
UCF’s McKenzie Milton is the quarterback getting the most buzz out of the AAC thanks to an undefeated record last year and a good start to 2018, but Houston quarterback D’Eriq King is actually putting up better numbers in a number of passing statistical categories. The junior has a higher completion percentage, more touchdowns, fewer interceptions and a higher passer rating than UCF’s Milton. Milton may have more rushing yards, but each quarterback has scored five touchdowns on the ground. If you haven’t been paying attention to what King has been doing, then Thursday night's game is appointment viewing.
3. Tulsa’s eight-game losing streak on the road
The past few seasons have not gone well for Philip Montgomery’s program. The Golden Hurricane have failed to win a game on the road in their last eight tries, with the last road win coming on November 16, 2016, at UCF. Tulsa has dropped its first two road games this season at Texas and Temple. The wins may have been tough to come by, but most of Tulsa’s road losses have at least been competitive, with five losses coming by seven points or fewer.
Tulsa’s defense is ranked fourth in the AAC coming into this game, but Houston will present the biggest offensive threat Tulsa has faced yet. Houston’s defense, despite having Ed Oliver on the line, has been giving up a ton of yards this season, but Oliver and Isaiah Chambers should be in for a big night as they try clamping down on Tulsa. Tulsa’s defense will have to catch its breath as King completes some big passes to the AAC’s leading receiver, Marquez Stevenson. Tulsa will have to work the clock and get running back Shamari Brooks going to keep Houston’s offense off the field. Houston simply has too much firepower to be stopped, though, and Houston will put this game away in the second half to improve to 4-1 and send Tulsa home with a fourth straight loss.
Prediction: Houston 46, Tulsa 23
— 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.