Houston’s 57-36 boatracing of No. 21 South Florida on Saturday wasn’t much of an upset as far as those are concerned. For one, the Cougars were as much as a 10-point favorite in some books coming into the game. Furthermore, while the Bulls may have been undefeated, advanced analytics metrics like S&P+ and Sagarin weren’t nearly as high on them. Given that USF struggled against American Athletic Conference opponents like Tulsa, East Carolina and UConn, none of which have more than two wins, a floodgates-type of loss felt inevitable. And sure enough, it came against Houston.
Though South Florida is no longer among the ever-shortening list of undefeated teams, the real story is Houston. The Cougars are now 7-1 — their only loss is to Texas Tech in nonconference play — and somewhat comfortably atop the AAC West division at 4-0. Every other team in that division has at least two conference losses and none are above .500. It would take some some big upsets in the next month to keep Houston from playing in the AAC Championship Game in December.
While defensive tackle Ed Oliver is the big name to know come NFL draft season — Oliver did not play vs. USF due to a knee injury — what makes the Cougars especially dangerous is the offense. This is a team that’s scored at least 40 points in every game this season and entering Week 9 was second in the country in points per game only to Alabama. Leading the way is quarterback D’Eriq King, who really is that dude when it comes to making plays with his arm and his legs. His 36-yard touchdown run — on fourth down, no less — was a thing of beauty. King, by the way, finished the day accounting for seven touchdowns.
There are only two other teams in the AAC that can score like Houston can: UCF and Memphis. That makes the Cougars’ regular season-ending game at Memphis all the more intriguing, but chances are Houston will be well positioned for the conference championship game by then. The real question is whether Houston is now the under-the-radar, hot-handed team that can upend No. 10 UCF, the clubhouse leader to make a New Year’s Six bowl for the second straight season. The Knights are on a 20-game winning streak and the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the country.
Come Sunday, though, when the new polls come out, don’t be surprised if Houston is in the top 25. And when the College Football Playoff selection committee reveals its first mock rankings this week, keep an eye out for the Cougars. Every win has been by double digits. When you’re not really in the playoff race to begin with, style points matter, and there’s an argument that Houston has looked every bit as impressive as UCF, if not even a little more so.
If the AAC Championship Game is indeed UCF-Houston, game on. It might end up being the most entertaining matchup of conference championship weekend.
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