Oct. 12 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — No. 25 Cincinnati (4-1) at Houston (2-3)

(Desmond Ridder photo courtesy Robert Meyer/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Oct. 12, TDECU Stadium, Houston, Texas, 3:30 p.m. EDT.

Having established itself as the team to beat in the East Division of the American Athletic Conference and cracking The Associated Press Top 25, Cincinnati looks to avoid the dreaded letdown Saturday when it faces Houston in a cross-division matchup.

New-look Cougars seek second straight win

Houston’s season took a drastic turn when both starting quarterback D’Eriq King and wide receiver Keith Corbin opted to redshirt for the remainder of the season after a 1-3 start. First-year coach Dana Holgorsen has had to re-tool on the fly but was helped by the schedule as the Cougars (2-3, 0-1 AAC West) had both a non-conference game and a bye week ahead of this contest.

Clayton Tune, who started the final two games last season after King went down with a knee injury, completed 16 of 20 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown and added another 100 on the ground as Houston defeated North Texas 46-25 on the road Sept. 28.

Patrick Carr matched a career-high with 139 rushing yards and set a personal best with three touchdowns, and the Cougars got two scores from their special teams as Marquez Stevenson returned a kickoff 82 yards and Bryson Smith raced 60 yards on a punt return.

“I’ve been very happy with our running game. Whether it’s what D’Eriq King brought to the table, from a quarterback run game, Clayton Tune brings the same stuff. That’s one element to it,” Holgorsen at his weekly press conference. “Our backs have been solid. It’s the same conversation, Patrick Carr couldn’t go a couple of games early and then Kyle Porter was the main guy. Kyle Porter then went out with his back and he’s going to be fine, then Patrick Carr stepped up and played really well.”

Stevenson, who is chasing his second straight 1,000-yard receiving season, also had seven catches for 64 yards and leads Houston with 24 receptions, 298 yards, and three touchdowns.

Houston’s pass defense continues to be a major work in progress as Holgorsen has watched it get torched for 1,566 yards and 13 TD passes — giving up at least two scoring tosses in all five games. The 312.2 yards allowed per game ranks 122nd among the 130 FBS teams.

Bearcats gain upper hand in East after taking down UCF

The 25th-ranked Bearcats (4-1, 1-0 East) are coming off the biggest victory of third-year coach Luke Fickell’s tenure, upending then-No. 18 UCF 27-24 on Oct. 4. Ahmad Gardner’s 16-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter gave Cincinnati the lead for good, and the offense killed off the final 3:11 of the game for Fickell’s first win over a ranked opponent in six tries.

The challenge for Fickell and the Bearcats now comes in facing the raised expectations such a victory brings. The perception of Houston has changed following the decisions of King and Corbin to redshirt, and Fickell recognizes this game will still be a challenge.

“I think getting over the thrill of victory and the euphoria and those kinds of things is first,” Fickell told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “… We’ve got to keep ourselves in line for what’s really important. That’s why, yes (UCF was) a great game and it’s an exciting game. But put it with what it is. It’s another one game. Yes, they’re the best and have been the best in the league, but it’s another one game. For our ability to put that behind us and continue to move on, pressure is what you make of it.”

Desmond Ridder had a quietly effective game versus the Knights, throwing for 149 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 41 on the ground. The sophomore has thrown for 964 yards and 10 TDs while completing 62 percent of his passes.

Michael Warren is coming off his best game of the season, rushing for 133 yards on 23 carries for his second 100-yard game of 2019 and ninth of his career. Cincinnati is averaging 187.6 yards on the ground overall while holding teams to 129.4 yards on 3.4 yards per carry.

Notable Trends

Houston is:

  • 1-8 ATS in its last nine games following a straight up win by 20 or more points.
  • 1-4 ATS in its last five games vs. AAC teams.
  • 1-4 ATS in its last five games coming off a bye week.

Cincinnati is:

  • 5-1 ATS in its last six games vs. sub-.500 teams.
  • 6-2-1 ATS in its last nine games vs. Houston

General:

  • The road team is 3-0-1 ATS in the last four meetings.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Houston UNDER 22 points (-110)

If King and Corbin were playing this pick would not exist, but Cincinnati’s defense has shown out against non-elite teams. Take away the games versus Ohio State and UCF, and the Bearcats have given up just 41 points and 681 combined yards in three games.

This version of Houston feels comparable to Cincinnati’s season-opener versus UCLA, and the Bearcats held the Bruins to 14 points and 218 yards.

Cincinnati -7 (-110)

Though the Cougars did show themselves at least capable of functioning without King and Corbin, it should also be noted the North Texas team it beat also gave up 49 points to SMU and recorded home wins over FCS foe Abilene Christian and sub-.500 Texas-San Antonio.

Cincinnati has the defensive capability to shut down teams with single-dimension aspects of offense, which Houston now is to a large degree in the passing game with Stevenson, though Tune and Carr could provide issues in the strength versus strength matchup on the ground.

If the Bearcats set the tone early in this game against a Cougars team coming off its bye week, they should be able to avoid a letdown and stay unbeaten in AAC play. The hook has come off the line in some places, so shop around and hunt it out where possible.

***3-Star Picks***

UNDER 51.5 points (-110)

Despite this being a low-end hook on a TD+FG point total, the under is the play. Cincinnati held a fairly potent UCF offense in check at 24 points and limited three other teams under 20. The Cougars are taking a step up in terms of quality in an opposing defense, and without King and Corbin available to make dynamic plays, this game feels like more of a grind-out affair with points coming from sustained drives as opposed to quick strikes.

The under is 7-2 in Cincinnati’s last nine road games and 5-2 in its last seven in conference play. The under is also 17-5-1 in the last 23 games for Houston coming off a bye week and 5-2 in the last seven for the Cougars at home versus teams with a winning road record.

Houston +4 first half (-110)

Cincinnati has not been a fast-starting team. The Bearcats have totaled 62 first-half points, and 28 of them came in their romp over Marshall. Houston has hit double figures in all five of its games and will not be awed in facing a ranked team for the third time this season. Add in the bye week and the Cougars could get an early jump that sees them cover in the first half.

UNDER 24.5 points first half (-110)

The hook makes the under the play as the teams likely will get right to the number. The Bearcats have played four of their five games in a window of 24 to 28 points, but the Cougars are more the X-factor here after having a bye week to re-establish their offense.

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