- Without quarterback D'Eriq King and defensive tackle Ed Oliver, Houston finds itself short-handed in crucial areas against the Black Knights.
Houston Cougars vs. Army Black Knights (-3)
Sat., December 22, 3:30 p.m. ET
Three things to know before betting on Houston-Army:
1. Houston's offense ended the regular season ranked 11th in the country in yards per play (6.77) and points per game (46.4). But facing Army in the Armed Forces Bowl, Houston will be without its heart and soul, quarterback D'Eriq King, who suffered an injury in Houston's second-to-last regular season game that brought his 2018 campaign to an end. King's 290 points were the most in the nation. It's a tremendous drop-off between King and his backup, freshman Clayton Tune. With a 44.7% completion percentage and only 37 rushing yards on 22 carries, Tune will have a hard time getting Houston's offense in gear.
2. Tune's first game as a starter does not foreshadow good things for Houston. Against Memphis, Houston lost 52-31 as only a 9.5-point underdog and were outgained in yardage 610-394. That disparity sets the Cougars up for a frightening trend: Over the last five seasons, teams averaging at least 440 yards of offense per game on the season that were outgained by at least 125 yards in their most recent game are 16-40 against the spread when playing a defense that allows 280-330 yards per game.
3. Houston's defense will not be able to pick up the slack. The Cougars' shellacking at the hands of Memphis was not an anomaly. Houston allowed 5.74 yards per play this year, ranking ahead of only the sorry trio of East Carolina, Navy and Connecticut in the AAC in that category. Nationally, they enter bowl season 107th in scoring defense, having surrendered 34.4 points per game. It hurts even more that defensive tackle Ed Oliver—one of the most talented players in program history and a possible top pick in next spring's NFL draft—will be sitting out the Armed Forces Bowl.
The Cougars allowed 34 rushing touchdowns this season (122nd in FBS), a bad omen heading into a matchup with an Army offense that runs the ball more often than any other team in the country, rushing on 88.4% of its plays. Fresh off of rolling over rival Navy—a team much better prepared to defend the option attack—for 222 yards, Army should find plenty of success on the ground against Houston and hold onto a lead once it gets one.
Pick: Army -3
Confidence Level: Moderate (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)