Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:57 AM
Houston at Tulane
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Thursday night college football returns with an American Athletic Conference West division battle between Houston and Tulane. Houston has won 13 of the last 15 meetings but Tulane has taken two of the past five including the last home meeting two seasons ago. Take a look at this week’s ESPN contest to kick off the college football weekend.
Houston Cougars at Tulane Green Wave
Yulman Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana
Time/TV: Thursday, Sept. 19, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN
Line: Tulane -4½, Over/Under 55½
Last Meeting: 2018, at Houston (-7½) 48, Tulane 17
Despite contrasting levels of success in over the past decade, right now Houston is just 1-2 while Tulane heads into this contest at 2-1 including a pair of home wins. This will be the conference opener for both teams and the start of the AAC West race where both squads will be chasing the heavy favorite Memphis.
Houston has faced a pair of top 25 squads losing 49-31 in the season opener at Oklahoma while last Friday, the Cougars narrowly earned a cover with a 31-24 defeat against Washington State across town at NRG Stadium. The only win for Houston came against FCS Prairie View with a 37-17 result.
Tulane dominated a prime time home opener against Florida International in late August and played competitively in a 24-6 loss at Auburn in Week 2 before blowing out FCS Montana State last week 58-6 at home with a 540-182 edge in yardage.
Houston quarterback D’Eriq King accounted for 50 touchdowns last season and he already has nine in three games to lead the Cougars. Houston is in a transition season with Dana Holgorsen taking over the program after modest success over eight seasons at West Virginia. Holgorsen was an assistant at Houston for two years in 2008 and 2009 and surprised many by jumping down to the smaller conference program after Major Applewhite was let go after two seasons. Houston gave Holgorsen a five-year deal worth $20 million as he is by a wide margin the highest paid Group of 5 head coach in the nation.
Applewhite and Tony Levine have both been let go by Houston following 8-5 seasons in the last decade as the bar is high for the Cougars who hope Holgorsen can be a long term winner that stays put after losing Art Briles, Kevin Sumlin, and Tom Herman to higher profile major conference positions.
Houston draws a difficult schedule in AAC play as no game can be taken for granted and ultimately the Cougars will be playing four of the first five games away from its home stadium as the Cougars are on the road again next week with a non-conference game at North Texas. Houston has to play UCF and Cincinnati from the AAC East as continuing a run of six straight bowl bids can’t be assumed and this week’s game could wind up as a critical swing game in that pursuit for a pair of teams that are expected to finish above the bowl cut-line but not by a wide margin.
Tulane has improved in win count in three straight seasons under Willie Fritz, technically finishing in a tie for 1st in the AAC West last season with Houston and Memphis at 5-3, with Memphis getting to play in the AAC Championship. Improving in win count again this season won’t be easy with UCF and Temple drawn from the East plus a challenging non-conference game at Army still ahead following a bye next weekend. The AAC West has had three different championship game representatives over the four seasons of its existence with Houston winning the inaugural AAC title game in 2015.
Fritz led the Wave to a bowl win last season for the first time for the program since 2002 and Tulane is looking to put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1997 and 1998 when Tommy Bowden led the Wave to a 12-0 season before heading to Clemson. Tulane hasn’t had consecutive bowl seasons since 1979 and 1980 as Fritz has been a great hire and now owns a 172-91 career record counting his lower level success at Central Missouri and Sam Houston State before he went 17-7 at Georgia Southern over two years.
Tulane has rushed for 768 yards in three games posting 5.9 yards per rush with Justin McMillan the leading rusher from the quarterback position. McMillan is a senior that played sparingly until he unseated Jonathan Banks midway through last season. McMillan posted similar numbers to Banks, but benefitted from a lighter late season schedule and keyed several narrow wins down the stretch with Tulane beating Tulsa, South Florida, East Carolina and Navy to win four of the final five before also winning the Cure Bowl against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Houston started last season 7-1 and the home win over Tulane in mid-November was the only win for the Cougars the rest of the way. The Cougars played without King in the final two games after he was injured against the Green Wave and behind backup Clayton Tune, the Cougars were blown out against Memphis in the season finale and in the bowl game vs. Army by a combined score of 122-45, prompting Applewhite’s release.
In September it is always worth checking the weather in the south and southeast and the early Thursday forecast does call for some wind upwards of 15 MPH with warm humid temperatures and a 20 percent chance of a shower or stray thunderstorm.
The one late season loss for Tulane last year came in this matchup, also on a Thursday night. Houston dominated with a 31-9 edge by halftime and a 41-9 lead through three quarters in a contest where Tulane had four turnovers. The contest was memorable more for a sideline confrontation between then Houston head coach Major Applewhite and star defensive lineman Ed Oliver, who wasn’t even suited up to play in the game. D’Eriq King was injured in the game as Houston leaned on running back Patrick Carr and took advantage of Tulane mistakes including two interceptions from Justin McMillan.
Houston is on a 13-2 S/U and 12-3 ATS run in this series since 2003, but Tulane won the last home meeting two years ago, 20-17 as a nine-point underdog. Since 2013, Houston is on a 10-11 S/U and 17-4 ATS run as an underdog, which they haven’t been vs. Tulane since 2003. Since 2016 under Willie Fritz, Tulane is 12-8 S/U and 12-7-1 ATS in home games including going 10-4 ATS since the start of the 2017 season.