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Houston Cougars vs. Cincinnati Bearcats†Odds - Pick ATS

Houston Cougars (2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS)
College Football Week 3
Date/Time: Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 7:30PM EST
Where: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
TV: ESPN
By Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: HOU -8/CIN +8
Over/Under Total: 64

The Houston Cougars come to Nippert Stadium for a Thursday night AAC matchup with the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Both teams have opened the season at 2-0 and look for bigger things ahead. Houstonís start carries more credence with a week one win over favored Oklahoma, a triumph that has the Cougars knocking on the door of the top-five. But itís these kinds of games where they need to exercise due caution. After beating Purdue on the road, 38-20, Cincy showed that they are on the rise with up-and-coming quarterback Hayden Moore. Houston, meanwhile, followed up the Oklahoma win with a 42-0 win over FCS opponent Lamar.

Houston doesnít have many tests throughout the season. And itís natural for them to overlook games like this and that could be a mistake. Cincinnati is a tricky proposition, even from a geographical standpoint. The Cougars are accustomed to the south, with this game being in the Midwest. And they are facing a team that could be quite explosive offensively with some nice playmakers on defense.

Houston may have had an easy enough time with Lamar, but the experience was made all the more exhausting with a 3.5-hour weather delay. They played without star QB Greg Ward, Jr., with coach Tom Herman confirming that Wardís shoulder injury wouldnít have kept him out of action if it were a more important game. Kyle Postma started in Wardís place and ran for 100 yards, with backs Kevrin Justice nad Mulbah Car also adding over 100 each on the ground in a full demonstration of the power of their ground-game. And that was without starting back Duke Catalon, who was out with a bad ankle.

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Houston looks to be taking some people by surprise, but they didnít just up and beat Oklahoma out of nowhere. This is one of four teams to face 4 ranked teams last season and beat them all. They defeated three of those opponents by double-digits, adding another double-digit win over a ranked opponent with their victory over Oklahoma in week one. They were nearly unbeaten last season and coach Herman seems to have a strange brand of football genius that he is wielding with this talented Houston bunch.

The Houston offense has a lot of firepower, led by a versatile threat in Greg Ward, Jr. But it was the ďDĒ that let them beat Oklahoma. In the second-half, the Houston defense was rigid against the high-octane Sooners offense, allowing the team offense to take over the game. While it was only Lamar, the Cougars defense was again impressive, giving up just 73 yards of total offense on the day. A 14-yard Lamar play was their longest play of the day. Look for the Houston defense to really be tested this week against a good offense that is a bit-under-the-radar with a blossoming QB behind center.

Cincinnati quarterback Hayden Moore took over last season when a scary concussion forced Gunner Kiel out of action. Moore put up some great numbers in Kielís absence and won the starting gig in camp. There is a certain smoothness to his game, as he calmly surveys the field before delivering with his big arm. He seems more elusive this season. Granted, beating Tennessee-Martin and Purdue was something they were supposed to do, but Moore and Company look pretty good through 2 games.

Cincinnati is working with a new offensive coordinator, who is instituting more of a pro-styleósomething the team seems equipped to do. Cincinnati running back Mike Boone is back with Tion Green to carry the load with the run-duties. There are some weapons in the aerial attack, as well. Senior Nate Cole had 81 yards and 2 touchdowns on Saturday. Khalil Lewis took a run and got 79 yards out of it. Tight end DJ Dowdy caught a touchdown pass. It still remains to be seen if this receiver crew can fill the voids left by their predecessors. They lost a lot in that area, but the offense still was left intact to a large extent, returning two quarterbacks with a lot of experience, their two leading running backs, and a mostly-intact offensive line.

On Saturday, we saw the Cincinnati defense make a critical contribution to the team effort. LB Mike Tyson was electric with 3 interceptions, one coming in the end zone as Purdue was set to score. Alex Thomas and Tyrell Gilbert also picked off passes. There are eight starters back on a defense that is expected to improve from last year, when it wasnít terribly hard to score on them at times. But even with all the positive developments, there were foreboding signs against a Purdue team that still has a lot of things to work out before even getting to mediocrity. The Boilermakers shot themselves in the foot with a slew of turnovers and other miscues. They wonít be able to bank on that this week against Houston. When a team is winning against a so-so team and youíre trying to gauge how they would do against a better team, you can see little troubling things that donít necessarily pop up on the stat-sheet. Against Purdue, some of that was evident.

One should expect a better Cincinnati team this season under Tommy Tuberville. The program has been ebbing slightly over the past 5 seasons, while still maintaining a high level. They flattened out recently, becoming less of an overall factor and a win here would restore a lot of their prior shine. Tuberville has taken a team to soaring heights before. At home and against Houston, this could be a tougher game than what is being forecasted for the high-ranked Cougars. Last season in Houston, Cincinnati lost only 33-30. Houston, however, looks to be in a different class. A few different twists in the Cougarsí favor could lead to a more-conclusive victory this season.

Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Iím betting on the Houston Cougars minus 8 points.

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