American Athletic Championship Game: Houston vs. Temple Prediction, Preview

    American Athletic Championship Game: Houston vs. Temple prediction and preview. The Cougars and Owls battle for the conference title in Houston.

    November 30, 2015


    The inaugural American Athletic Conference title game pits the Houston Cougars (11-1) against the Temple Owls (10-2). Check out the American Athletic Championship prediction and game preview.


    American Athletic Championship Game Preview

    Broadcast

    Date: Saturday, December 5
    Game Time: 12:00 ET
    Network: ABC

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    Why You Need To Care

    The American will be staging its first-ever conference title game, East meeting West. And the winner will get more than some league hardware—it’ll earn a Big Six bowl game and the national exposure that comes with it.

    Before the season began, Cincinnati and Memphis were the favorites to be squaring off this weekend. But Temple and Houston flipped the divisional script, respectively. The Owls are in the midst of arguably their best season ever, on the brink of a first league title since 1967, when the Middle Atlantic Conference was home. Third-year coach Matt Rhule has brought respect and notoriety to a one-time football doormat, opening the year with an upset of Penn State and falling just short of an epic Halloween upset of Notre Dame.

    Houston is enjoying a revival of its own, led by another rising star on the sidelines. First-year head coach Tom Herman inherited a program struggling to get over the eight-win hump, and quickly transformed it into a juggernaut. The Cougars are the highest ranked Group of Five team, winning the first 10 games before stumbling at UConn on a day that their quarterback was hobbled. Houston rebounded with authority last weekend, crushing Navy, 52-31, to lock up the West Division.

    Why Temple Will Win

    Not since the Week 2 trip to Louisville has Houston faced as much defensive talent and physicality as it will this Saturday.

    Rhule has done a great job in Philly, but defensive coordinator Phil Snow has been the unsung hero of this season’s success. The Owls allow less than 19 points per game, bouncing back from brief bouts of vulnerability early in November to shut down Memphis and Connecticut. Temple is rugged at every level, leading the league in run defense, pass efficiency D and tackles for minus yards. A green Houston O-line, which starts three rookies on the interior, will have its hands full trying to stem the rush of LB Tyler Matakevich and linemen Nate D. Smith, Haason Reddick and especially Matt Ioannidis.

    Why Houston Will Win

    The Cougars possess the far better offensive personnel, exacerbated by their own athletic, assertive defense.

    Houston is a different team now that QB Greg Ward Jr. is back in the lineup. Ward, who missed the 20-17 UConn loss, returned last week to account for 391 yards and four touchdowns against an underrated Navy D that had been playing well all year. Even with a bum ankle, Ward is one of the game’s most dynamic playmakers, vexing opponents with his quick release and even quicker feet in space. But outgunning the Cougars will be even tougher for Temple, because Herman’s defense will frustrate QB P.J. Walker & Co. The Owls are sporadic with the ball, leaning heavily on one man, RB Jahad Thomas. Houston, meanwhile , is littered with good athletes, like linebackers Steven Taylor and Elandon Roberts and DBs William Jackson and Trevon Stewart, the cornerstones of a unit leading the league in sacks and takeaways.

    Player Who Matters

    Houston is at its offensive best when it’s balanced. But who’ll be taking handoffs from Ward on Saturday afternoon?

    Starting RB Kenneth Farrow rested his ankle last week against Navy, and backup Ryan Jackson was lost for the year a month ago with an ankle injury. Junior CB Brandon Wilson actually left the secondary versus the Midshipmen and rushed for 111 yards and two scores on 22 carries. He could be used on offense again this week, though Herman would prefer to have him back on D, where he can track the routes of Owl receivers Robby Anderson and Ventell Bryant. The Cougars will need something out of the running game to keep Temple honest and soften Matakevich and the front seven.

    What’s Going To Happen?

    Herman is set to validate Houston’s decision earlier in the week to prevent bigger schools from poaching the coach.

    The Cougars are committed to keeping Herman on board beyond this season, one less distraction for the players on Saturday. Houston made a profound statement a week ago against Navy, fueled by having Ward back in the huddle. And while points will be harder to come by this weekend, the Cougs will be the superior team on offense. Ward will continue his multi-dimensional wizardry, while the defense flies all over the field to frustrate the one-note Temple attack.

    American Athletic Championship Prediction

    Final Score: Houston 34, Temple 23, Line: Houston -6.5, o/u: 56.5
    Must See Rating: 5: The Big Short – 1: CMA Country Christmas … 4

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