There is no way to argue any Group of Five program has had a better start to the 2016 season than Houston. Entering the season, many thought Tom Herman's Cougars could be capable of making the College Football Playoff discussion interesting, and they have left no doubt they intend to make that happen. With wins against Oklahoma and Cincinnati already under their belts, most have shifted their attention to a November game in Houston against Lamar Jackson and Louisville. But Houston has another objective to take care of this weekend – revenge.
UConn heads to Houston for a Thursday night showdown in American Athletic Conference play, and the Cougars have a good reason for having this one circled on their schedules. Can Houston turn in one more dominant showing on national TV, or can the Huskies pull a potentially earth-shattering upset to open the New Year’s Six door for someone else?
UConn at Houston
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Houston -28
Three Things to Watch
1. Greg Ward Jr.’s redemption
There was just one team that defeated Houston a season ago, but it did so without having to go against a healthy Greg Ward Jr. That team, of course, was UConn. The Huskies will have a big enough challenge trying to upset Houston for a second straight season, but this time they must slow down Houston’s dynamic quarterback in order to do so.
Ward is off to a good start this season with 936 passing yards and five touchdowns along with 113 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Sure, those numbers may not sound all that great considering Ward has three games under his belt (he sat out a Week 2 game against Lamar), but he also got an early rest last week against Texas State. A well-rested Ward should be a big concern for UConn.
2. Houston’s defense may be pretty good too
It can be pretty difficult to fully gauge just how good Houston’s defense may be, but two game s against decent opponents have suggested it may be pretty darn good. Ask Oklahoma about Houston’s defense and the Sooners will likely tell you Houston plays much more aggressively than you might expect from a Group of Five program. Freshman Ed Oliver has fit in quite well in the middle of Houston’s defensive line and he is having an impact in the backfield at times.
Ask Cincinnati, and the Bearcats will tell you Houston’s defense has the killer ability to turn a game in its favor in the blink of an eye. In an otherwise closely-played game, Houston’s defense came through with two pick-sixes to help pull away for a road win two weeks ago.
3. UConn must convert inside the red zone
The most infamous moment of the season for UConn so far this season may be the bundled clock management at the end of the Navy game down near the goal line. That may be the worst red zone possession of the year for the Huskies, but UConn is struggling once they get inside the 20-yard line to come away with touchdowns. Through four games, UConn has reached the red zone 12 times and come away with just six touchdowns. Three other times resulted in a field goal. Far too many points are being left on the board and that simply cannot happen against a team like Houston.
As was the case last year when these two teams played, there is pretty much nothing you can see on paper that suggests UConn has a chance to come away with a massive upset against Houston. Such was the case last year too, though, so you know the Huskies will make the trip to Houston feeling confident. But UConn has already had to slip past Maine and Virginia and has taken losses against Navy and Syracuse. Exactly how confident can these Huskies be? Houston is on a mission right now and should jump all over the visitors early on and never have a need to look back.
Prediction: Houston 45, UConn 17
— 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.