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NCAA Sunday Football

NCAA Sunday Football

Sunday night football: SMU at Houston

SMU Mustangs at Houston Cougars (-19, 68 ½)

Though I normally prefer game-specific matchups over betting statistics when choosing a side in college football, some numbers just shouldn’t be ignored.

For example, the fact that the Houston Cougars were never favored by this many points during the Kevin Kolb era is an eye-opener, right?

But, here is a quick refresher. Kolb was the quarterback who started as a true freshman, shattered David Klinger’s school passing records and scared the hell out of Houston’s BCS-conference opponents in recent years.

Kolb threw for 30 touchdowns last season while being intercepted only four times en route to becoming a second-round selection in last spring’s NFL Draft.

For all his heroics, however, Kolb never lifted the Cougars beyond a 17-point favorite. When the best quarterback in school history is nowhere near campus, I get a little antsy when I’m supposed to lay 19 points on the Cougars.

I’m not suggesting that Houston has suffered a dramatic letdown since Kolb went pro. The Cougars lead C-USA West and they’ve out-gained all eight opponents this year in total yards. That latter stat takes on greater significance when you realize Houston out-yarded both Oregon and Alabama this season.

I’m simply saying it’s a lot of points to lay against an opponent like Southern Methodist, whose 0-4 C-USA record belies its close losses in recent weeks.

SMU pushed both UTEP and Tulane to overtime in recent weeks before falling short in the extra period. The Mustangs’ toughest loss, though, came last week in Tulsa when they led the heavily-favored Golden Hurricane after 59 minutes of play.

The Mustangs had a fourth-and-goal scenario late in the fourth that could have cemented the upset if converted. They came up short, and Tulsa drove 99 yards in nine plays for the win.  SMU backers were left to console themselves with their school’s payout as a 13 ½-point underdog.

In fact, the narrow loss in Tulsa was the second instance this season where SMU had been a double-digit underdog. The Mustangs also covered the spread as a 23-point dog in TCU.

Phil Bennett’s team now travels to Robertson Stadium. SMU beat the Cougars as 11 ½-point underdogs at Houston two seasons ago, 29-24, as Kolb suffered a rare sub-par start.

Of course, SMU’s defense was respectable against all its 2005 opponents, not just Kolb and the Cougars. The Mustangs allowed an average of just 25.5 points per game that season, far superior to the 36.5 points per game they’re conceding to opponents during the current campaign.

SMU may be hard-pressed to keep the Cougars below that average tally. Running back Anthony Alridge has flourished in his increased role this season, racking up a trio of 200-plus yard games on the ground. And, while this year’s Cougars don’t have Kolb, they have a QB tandem that’s done well at the helm of a balanced offense.

Blake Joseph and Case Keenum have shared the workload in all eight games this season, so Cougars head coach Art Briles doesn’t see any reason to change. The stronger-armed Joseph has made five starts, while the fleeter-footed Keenum has made three. Bettors won’t know who’ll start on Sunday, but they can count on both quarterbacks seeing significant action.

"Honestly, I'm not surprised it's worked out," Joseph told the Houston Chronicle this week. "Florida won the national championship last season and they had a two-quarterback system with Tim Tebow and Chris Leak. That worked pretty well for them, so why can't it work for someone else?"

Houston is scoring 37.1 points per game this season, so I won’t suggest the two-headed QB experiment is a failure.

But compare the Cougars’ scoring average to the total for Sunday’s game. Oddmakers hung a 68 ½-point total, which suggests they expect SMU to get its share of points. I agree.

The last time Houston played at home, the Cougars laid 22 ½ points to Rice, which was 1-4 at the time. The Owls managed to score 48 points in a shootout loss and easily covered the spread.

It should be a Sunday night shootout in Houston.  Justin Willis and the Mustangs have showed enough offensive force in recent weeks to make me believe they can keep up with their hosts. I’ll take SMU with the points.

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Re: NCAA Sunday Football

Game Preview for S-M-U vs Houston

FACTS amp; STATS: Site: Robertson Stadium (32,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: ESPN. Home Record: SMU 1-3, Houston 2-1. Away Record: SMU 0-4, Houston 3-2. Neutral Record: SMU 0-0, Houston 0-0. Conference Record: SMU 0-4, Houston 4-1. Series Record: Houston leads, 12-9-1.

GAME NOTES: A set of teams at completely different ends of the Conference USA standings collide at Robertson Stadium this Sunday, as the SMU Mustangs take on the Houston Cougars. The Mustangs enter the game at the bottom of the West Division standings at 0-4 and that includes a tough 29-23 setback at Tulsa last weekend. It was the sixth loss in a row by SMU, which is now just 1-7 overall. Following last weekend's game, SMU announced that head coach Phil Bennett will not be back at the conclusion of the season, but he will remain coach for the team's final four games. Bennett is in his sixth season as head coach and he has a career record of just 18-48, although he did lead SMU to bowl-eligibility last season. As for Houston, it sits atop the West Division standings at 4-1, one game ahead of Tulsa. The Cougars are riding a three-game win streak and that includes a 34-31 triumph at Texas-El Paso this past weekend. Now at 5-3 overall, Houston returns back home, where it has posted a 2-1 ledger thus far. The Cougars lead the all-time series with SMU, 12-9-1, and that takes into account last season's 37-27 triumph in Dallas.

SMU's offense hasn't been the problem this season, as the Mustangs are producing 24.8 ppg behind a solid 396.0 total ypg. The team has found success on the ground (151.2 ypg) and through the air (244.8 ypg), although it has committed one too many turnovers (19). Last weekend, the Mustangs racked up 350 yards of total offense, but it couldn't put Tulsa away and that ultimately cost them in 29-23 loss. Quarterback Justin Willis threw for 192 yards and a pair of scores and he also rushed for 44 yards on 14 carries in the losing cause. Willis has been hurt by some interceptions (11) this season, but overall he has had another strong campaign. He has completed 58.8 percent of his tosses for 1,941 yards and 14 touchdowns, in addition to leading the team with 441 rushing yards. His main target is Emmanuel Sanders, who leads the club with 52 catches, 652 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Last weekend, Sanders hauled in six passes that went for 57 yards and a touchdown in the losing cause. Zack Sledge is another threat in the passing game and he ranks second to Sanders with 33 receptions, 463 yards and four scores.

The Mustangs' struggles can be attributed to their poor play on defense, where they are allowing a whopping 36.5 ppg and an equally as bad 483.0 total ypg. The unit has to show it can stop the run (183.0 ypg) or the pass (300.0 ypg), and it is also permitting opponents to convert 52.0 percent of the time on third downs. Despite forcing five turnovers last weekend, SMU's defense let the team down, as it allowed Tulsa to drive 99 yards, in just over a minute, to win the game on a 51-yard touchdown pass with only 43 ticks left on the clock. It was a heart-breaking finish for the Mustangs, who gave up 438 total yards, including 336 via the pass. Tyler Jones guided the club in defeat by posting 15 tackles and a forced fumble. For the year, Bryce Hudman is the team's top tackler with 67 stops to his name.

Houston is one of the most explosive and balanced teams in C-USA this season, as it is scoring a hardy 37.1 ppg behind 233.2 rushing ypg and 285.0 passing ypg. Last weekend, the Cougars rolled up 520 yards of total offense, including 306 on the ground, in a 34-31 win over UTEP. Anthony Alridge rushed for 204 yards on 27 carries and he also had six catches for 43 yards. It was the third 200-plus yard rushing performance of the season by Alridge, who leads the club with 1,063 yards and nine touchdowns for the year. Alridge is also a threat in the passing game, ranking third on the team with 31 catches and 343 yards. He also has four receiving touchdowns to his credit. Quarterback Case Keenum also put forth a noteworthy effort last weekend, as he threw for 116 yards and a score, while rushing for 72 yards and two more touchdowns. Blake Joseph has been splitting time with Keenum this season and he completed 10-of-14 throws for 98 yards last weekend. The duo are both completing over 66.0 percent of their throws this season and they have combined for 2,270 yards and 17 touchdowns. Keenum, the more mobile of the two, has also rushed for 278 yards and seven touchdowns. Wideout Donnie Avery doesn't seem to care about the quarterback carousel, as he ranks fifth in the nation with an average of 122.6 receiving ypg. Avery also leads the team in catches (56) and receiving touchdowns (five), although he was limited to just five receptions for 48 yards last weekend.

Defensively, the Cougars are doing a decent job holding their opponents to 354.8 total, but the 30.1 ppg they are allowing could use some improvement. The unit could also benefit from a few more big plays, recording just 11 sacks and forcing only 14 turnovers thus far. Last weekend, Houston limited UTEP to 369 total yards, yet it still gave up 31 points in the game. The defense managed just one turnover and it failed to record a sack, although the Cougars ended winning the game anyway. Trent Allen led the team with eight stops and Rocky Schwartz chipped in with five tackles. Schwartz has been the team's most effective player on this side of the ball and he leads the club with 61 stops to go along with a pair of interceptions.

Because of their offense the Cougars are the pick here, and they should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard against a suspect SMU defense.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 44, SMU 24

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