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UTEP vs. Houston
Betting Line - Houston -19.5
The Houston Cougars host the UTEP miners Friday Night in Houston in a Conference USA matchup that should light up the scoreboard. Houston opened as an 18 point favorite and has been bet up to -19.5. As of this writing early in the week, there is no total posted, but how does 99 sound? That's how many points were scored last year when these two met. Hold on to your hat!
Both teams started the season with cupcakes. UTEP beat Arkansas Pine Bluff 31-10 while Houston ripped apart Texas State 68-28. Of the two, it was obviously Houston that was more impressive, picking up right where they left off last year, piling up points. Last season they scored 40 or more points 8 times while on there way to a 10-3 season, turning some heads along the way.
Most feel this Houston team is the class of Conference USA and many also believe they are set to make their mark on the National scene as well. We say, not so fast my friends. Rome wasn't built in a day. The schedule is very cooperative, so no question this Cougar team will find themselves with 10 wins or more again with a nice bowl game as a reward, but we don't put them anywhere close to a top 10 team. The problem of course, is their defense.
Houston may have won 10 games a year ago, but of those 10 wins, 5 of them could have been losses. They were involved in quite a few games where basically, the last team with the ball won and it happened to be Houston. They won 10 games as a result of winning shootouts, in some cases, barely. If this team had a big time defense to go along with their big time offense, they'd be damn scary.
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Whether the Houston defense can improve is the key to how far they can go. They made the right move by hiring defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, a former defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys who spent last season on the Philadelphia Eagles staff. But hey, this defense ranked 111th last season, how much improvement can we possibly expect in just one year? Hard to tell against the likes of Texas State. Houston gave up 21 points in the 2nd half but it wasn't the starting defense that gave up the points. That being said, they still gave up something like 154 yards in the first half.
UTEP wasn't exactly impressive either though. They led Arkansas Pine Bluff just 14-10 at the half and gave up 200 yards through the air. Not encouraging. Like Houston, the problem for UTEP has been their defense. While Houston won 10 games and had 5 that could have gone the other way, UTEP won just 4 games, but also had at least 5 games that were tight and could have been wins. Lot's of close losses. In other words, these two teams had very different records a year ago, but perhaps weren't as far apart talent wise as one might think.
One need only look at last years game between these two teams to drive that point home. UTEP won 58-41. We often talk about the talent levels at certain schools, and taking a look at the history between the two when handicapping a game. Some teams pound others year after year. Other times, you see close games year after year. Such is the case here. Prior to last years UTEP win, Houston won the previous two meetings by 5 and 3 points. In 2005 UTEP won by 3. It was only the 2006 game that got a tad out of hand as Houston managed to beat UTEP 34-17. In that game, UTEP led 17-10 at the half.
Houston figures to be the better team. We'd expect them to continue to improve on defense. They may even blow UTEP off the field Friday night, but we'd be very leery laying 18 points in this spot. History just doesn't support it. There are still too many question marks. If you gave UTEP 18 points in each of the last 5 games against Houston they would have gone 5-0 against the number winning two games straight up, losing two by 5 points or less. Even in a game Houston dominates, the back door is always open for a UTEP offense led by QB Trevor Vittatoe who has shattered school records for passing yards in his 3 seasons behind center along with Running back Donald Buckram who had 3 200+ yard games last season.
Houston likely gets their revenge but we're not so sure it will be by enough. The game opened -18 and has moved to -19.5. It will likely keep rising so if you're going to play this one, keep an eye on th deline. +19.5 is nice but +21 is better. UTEP +19.5 or more