Oklahoma Sooners at Houston Cougars, Saturday Sept. 3, Noon ET
There is no pressure here for Houston. The game will decide not only their national title chances but also could kill the best chance for a playoff spot the Group of 5 conferences have had. It also will play into how attractive Houston is to the Big 12 - a blowout loss would damage their case - and could have an impact on whether coach Tom Herman sticks around for the longer term, or jumps to by of the dozens of programs that would welcome with open arms and a massive payday next year. In short, this game means pretty much everything for the Cougars.
Luckily for them, this is about the least neutral neutral-site game you can possibly have. They are playing in the home of the Houston Texans, a much bigger and nicer stadium less than seven miles from their home field. Oklahoma travels well and will have plenty of fans who make the 450-mile trek to Houston, but they will be hugely outnumbered by the Cougars faithful there hoping to see their program make the biggest statement they have ever made on the gridiron.
Oklahoma at Houston Betting Storylines
At the heart of this game is a truly spectacular QB battle - one of the best we will see all season. Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield is currently the fourth choice in Heisman futures betting. Houston's Greg Ward Jr. is in the Top 20 as well. They both represent the biggest strengths of their team.
Mayfield is at the helm of an Air Raid-esque offense that is highly potent through the air, and he also has one of the best running duos in the country to keep the Houston defense guessing. The Cougars have excellent linebackers, but they also have more questions up front for Oklahoma to exploit. Mayfield could have a good day. Ward Jr. Could also have a very good day. He's a dual-threat dynamo, and we know from recent experience that Mike Stoops' defense struggles against such players - Deshaun Watson had a big day against the Sooners in Clemson's lopsided Orange Bowl win. Ward was fantastic against the Seminoles in their bowl appearance, so he won't be intimidated by the level of competition.
The coaching is an interesting storyline here. Bob Stoops has been in charge since 1999 and has 179 career wins and a national title. He has won the Big 12 nine times and is coming off a playoff appearance. He's the wily veteran. Herman, on the other hand, has coached for only one season, but how many guys can claim 13 wins in just one year? He still has things to prove, but his career so far and his start as a head coach suggest he is on a path to a very bright future. He was the national assistant coach of the year in 2014 and AAC coach of the year last year.
On one hand, Stoops has been in more games like this than games Herman has coached. Experience is his big edge. On the other hand, Herman has yet to take a single misstep in his head coaching career, while Stoops has often underwhelmed on the biggest of stages. There is no clear answer on this front.
Oklahoma at Houston Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Oklahoma favored by 9.5 points, and that has since risen to 11. More than 60 percent of bets have been on the Sooners, so the line movement is consistent with expectations. Without a major development on one side or the other, we are unlikely to see a further significant move in either direction. The total opened at 68 and is beginning to show slight downward movement, with 67.5 now available in spots.
The Sooners are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games and 7-1 ATS in their last eight in September, but a dismal 0-4 ATS in their last four neutral-site games. The Cougars are 7-2 ATS in their last nine on a neutral field, 8-2 ATS in their last 10 in September, and 9-4 ATS in their last 13 overall. The Sooners have gone "over" the total in six of their last eight but "under" in five of their last seven on a neutral field. Houston has gone under in five of their final seven games.
Oklahoma at Houston Predictions and Picks
The number in my mind was 10 points, so the line movement has decided this one. Oklahoma is the better team overall right now, but the gap isn't significant and the location of the game is a big factor. Houston may not win, but they are going to be able to keep it close - close enough to cover this spread.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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