Rice Owls (2-5, 1-3 C-USA) at Houston Cougars (7-0, 3-0 C-USA)
Kickoff: Thursday, October 27th, 7:00 PM Central
The Line: Houston by 26.5
All-Time Series: Houston Leads 26-11 (Cougars 12-5 at home)
If you're of the opinion that Houston should and will dominate Thursday's match-up between the two crosstown rivals, well, you've got plenty of evidence on your side.
The home team has won the last four games in the series, and this week's showdown takes place in Robertson Stadium. The Cougars have won four straight at the Rob in the series. The Owls are just 2-16 all-time against UH during seasons in which Houston wins at least seven games. Rice is only 2-8 all-time in Bayou Bucket history coming off of a win the previous year, and the last time they headed to the Rob after winning the year before, it resulted in the biggest beat-down in the history of the rivalry. And the Owls have never beaten a top 25-ranked Cougar squad.
And putting all of the series history aside, Houston is playing excellent football right now, and Rice is struggling.
I'm sure I don't have to tell you that Houston has a better offense than Rice, but here's how extreme the juxtaposition is: the Owls' top scoring output in a game this year is 31 points. Houston's lowest is 35.
The Cougar defense has been better, as well. Rice is allowing 5.0 yards per carry, Houston just 4.0. The Owls secondary has surrendered 7.7 yards per play through the air, UH checks in at 7.2.
Ball control? Another check in the Houston column. The Coogs have turned the ball over just eight times, while piling up 17 takeaways. Rice has committed 16 turnovers, while forcing just 12.
If all that isn't enough, starting Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue suffered concussion-like symptoms two weeks ago against Marshall, and was ineffective last week against Tulsa before quickly being given the hook for back-up Nick Fanuzzi. Head coach David Bailiff declined to name a starter this week.
While strange things can sometimes happen in short weeks, when teams don't have as much time to form a game plan for their opponent, the Cougars figure to be aided by playing Marshall on Saturday. The Thundering Herd didn't name a starting quarterback, before going with the scrambler in A.J. Graham. That gave Houston some extra practice against a mobile QB, the category McHargue falls into. The Cougar offensive line got a stiff test against NFL prospect Vinny Curry of Marshall on Saturday, good preparation for Rice defensive lineman Scott Solomon.
The Owls will have all the motivation in the world, hoping to salvage their season, hoping to save their coach's job, and hoping to avenge an embarrassing loss the last time they made the trip across town. But the talent gap is too wide. The Cougars are four quarters away from an 8-0 record, matching the best start to a season in school history.