Louisville Cardinals at Houston Cougars, Thursday Nov. 17, 8 p.m. ET
A couple of months ago this loomed as potentially the game of the year. Houston had beaten Oklahoma and seemed all but certain to roll over everyone en route to this game. Louisville was scoring at will with a Heisman lock at QB. It seemed like this game was set up as essentially a playoff quarterfinal - the winner would be undefeated and in the driver's seat for a playoff berth.
Well, it hasn't turned out that way. Houston lost, and then they lost again. Now they probably can't even make their conference title game, never mind win it. Louisville has been better than that, but their chances of a conference title are no better - they lost by a narrow margin to Clemson, so now they don't control their own destiny. Clemson has only one conference game left, and it is against Wake Forest - hardly a massive test.
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So, what are they playing for here? Pride, and that's about it. Houston is playing in a mid-range bowl game no matter what happens - no one cares about an also-ran in the AAC. Louisville sits fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings, but they would need absolutely everything to go their way in order to wind up in the coveted Top 4. A big win for them here would be better than a narrow win, or a loss obviously, but by itself it won't be enough to change their scenario. So, watch this game for all that it is, but think also of what it could have been.
Louisville at Houston Betting Storylines
Louisville needs to break a recent habit to really shine in this one. Twice in their last three games they have dug an early hole that they have had to climb out of in the second half. Three games back they were down 17-7 against Virginia before feeling some urgency and showing what they can do. Last week they fell behind 12-0 to Wake Forest. They scored the next 44 points, so it wasn't like they were in any real danger, but they obviously weren't ready for the game at the opening whistle. This Houston team is better defensively than Virginia or Wake Forest, and they have a much more potent offense. If the Cardinals snooze through the first quarter again then they could find themselves in a hole they can't escape this time.
Houston has already ended one Heisman campaign, taking all momentum away from Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield even before the season had barely begun. Now they are up against the runaway favorite in Lamar Jackson. It would take a really poor game for Jackson to even come back to the crowd, never mind lose his lead. You can bet that Houston's defensive coaching staff will be talking to their players a lot about making life difficult for Jackson. It's excellent motivation for a talented defense. Unfortunately, though, it's a short week for the team, and that will make it tougher for them to come up with ways to disrupt the QB. It sure feels like the short week is an advantage for Louisville. On the other hand, though, Jackson is coming off his weakest passing day of the season, and his one total TD was by far the least productive he has been this season. Maybe Houston can cheat by looking at what Wake Forest was able to do to slow him down and focus on doing it better.
Louisville at Houston Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Louisville favored by two touchdowns on the road, and things have remained stable in early betting action. More bets have come in on Louisville, but the gap isn't significant, so it is unlikely that we will see a significant move unless there is a major news development.
The Cardinals are 4-0-1 ATS in their last five nonconference games but just 1-4 ATS in their last five against the AAC. They are a very respectable 29-13-1 ATS in their last 43 road games. The Cougars have covered their last six against the ACC, but are just 1-4 ATS in their last five home games and have failed to cover their last five overall.
Louisville at Houston Predictions and Picks
Louisville is the better team. You can't dispute that. They are giving up two touchdowns on the road, though, and that is too much. I have been really disappointed by Houston this year, but they are playing better over their last two games. They really got up for their last really big game, and should be motivated for this one as well. They have thrown away their own shot at greatness, but they can play spoiler here, and that could be motivation enough. Louisville should be in good shape to win, but the chances are strong that Houston can keep it closer than this. Houston is the pick against the spread.
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