Memphis vs. Houston
Houston, TX - Houston remains the only Conference USA team in the AP Top 25. It hasn't appeared worthy of that position recently.
Now in need of help to reach the conference title game, the 24th-ranked Cougars look to rebound from a surprising loss as they host Memphis on Saturday.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made Houston –23.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 83% of bets for this game have been placed on Houston –23.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Because of its struggling defense, Houston needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Southern Miss on Oct. 31 and a 51-yard field goal as time expired to top Tulsa on Nov. 7.
The Cougars, however, were blown off that tightrope with last week's 37-32 road loss to a Central Florida team which had split its previous eight games. They fell one game back of SMU in the conference's West division and would plummet 11 spots in the AP poll.
Houston (8-2, 4-2) led by 14 after Devin Mays' 100-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, but didn't score another touchdown until there was 3:39 remaining. The Cougars' late comeback attempt from a 17-point deficit fell short.
Houston, the nation's third-highest scoring offense, was held below 38 points for the third time this season.
"They turned it into a physical game, and we didn't respond the way we should have," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "When it becomes a physical game, you have to be able to match that style of play, and we didn't do it."
Houston has averaged 41.1 points and remains the nation's top-ranked offense (562.6 yards per game), thanks to Case Keenum. The junior leads the FBS with 4,129 passing yards and is second with 31 touchdowns, one behind Boise State's Kellen Moore.
However, the Cougars allow 462.1 yards per game to rank 114th out of 120 teams, and they're 113th against the run (213.3 ypg).
That defense has put them in a difficult spot to reach the conference title game with two weeks to go. Houston faces two teams that are a combined 3-17 in Memphis and Rice, but SMU draws Marshall and Tulane, which are a combined 8-12.
The Cougars, though, hold the tiebreaker over the Mustangs thanks to a 38-15 win Oct. 24.
"There's still a lot of football to play and who knows what's going to happen," Sumlin said. "We can't be concerned with speculating or worrying about what other people do. We have to worry about the games that we play and winning those games, then we'll see what happens. That's where we are, that's what our focus is and that's where we're headed."
Sumlin's team shouldn't be too worried about Memphis (2-8, 1-5).
In their first game since announcing coach Tommy West would be fired after the season, the Tigers lost 31-21 to visiting UAB last Saturday.
Will Hudgens passed for a season-high 333 yards for Memphis, which trailed by 24 entering the fourth quarter before scoring a pair of late touchdowns in its fourth straight defeat. The Tigers have given up 161 points during that skid.
Under West, the Tigers are 4-2 against Houston, but they have never faced Keenum. The Memphis coach, though, has seen plenty of the star quarterback on film.
"I believe Houston is as fine of an offensive team as I've seen since I've been in this league," he said. "Case Keenum is fabulous at quarterback. For this quarterback not to be on a Heisman list is ridiculous."
Houston snapped a three-game skid in the series with a 23-20 overtime win at Memphis in the last matchup in 2006. The schools have split 10 meetings since joining Conference USA in 1996 but the Tigers have won three in a row at Houston.
Posted: 11/17/09 7:37PM ET