Ok, maybe this game doesn’t necessarily determine if one of these teams will land a playoff spot. It’s obvious that Memphis won’t; even though the Tigers have that win over Ole Miss that looks less impressive every week, they’ve got that whooping they take from Navy a week ago, which shut the door on their chances. As for Houston, well, they may be the only non-power team that’s still undefeated, but that non-power part is proving pretty important at this point int he playoff committee’s decisions. But despite that, the committee has shown that they’re respecting the American as a whole in two different ways:
The first is that they’re showing Notre Dame a lot of love. Yeah, the Irish have only one loss that came down to a failed two-point conversion against the current undefeated and top ranked team and they’ve done well to demolish much lesser teams than themselves, something we saw was key last season (TCU and Baylor can both offer testament). However, Notre Dame has a couple close games at the hands of AAC teams that you’d typically think would hurt them, and yet neither have. Needing to wait until the second half to pull away from Navy (a game that ended 41-24 was only 24-21 at halftime) and having to hold on for dear life until the end of a game against Temple did nothing to worsen the Irish’s reputation with the committee.
The second is that the committee has already come out and said they would delay final rankings until the end of the Army/Navy game, something that would only happen if either team was good enough to be ranked high enough by the committee to reach a major bowl (in this case it’s Navy). These two things are enough evidence to show that while the committee might not be respecting Houston’s record right now, they very well might in the near future.
Houston Can’t Just Win, They Have To Win Big
All of the above said, if Houston wants even a glance from the committee, the Cougars need to win big. It took Iowa this long to crack the top 5, and the Hawkeyes are undefeated in the Big Ten. If a non-power team ever wants to enter into the playoff as its currently held (with just four times), they can’t do what Florida State did a year ago or Ohio State is doing this season. The positive for the Cougars is that their schedule allows for them to get a lot of attention down the stretch if they make the most of it. They host Memphis, play at Connecticut (ok, this one’s not really a big deal), then host Navy. If they win out, they would then play in the AAC championship game, most likely against Temple, a team whose one-loss is a barnburner against Notre Dame, as I mentioned. So, if Houston can win-out and win big, they will at least pressure the committee into making a difficult decision at the end of the season, especially if the Big XII and Big Ten teams do what everyone thinks they will and have their undefeateds drop a game.
The Cougars Could Do The Same Thing Navy Did
A week ago Navy thumped the Tigers by running for a combined 374 yards and passing for only 85. The Midshipmen’s rushing offense currently ranks 3rd in the nation, and the quarterback/running back tandem of Keenan Reynolds and Chris Swain have a combined 1,481 yards on the year. Quite similarly, Houston’s rushing offense ranks 7th in the nation, and the quarterback/running back duo of Greg Ward Jr. and Kenneth Farrow have rushed for a combined 1,686 yards on the year. But, here’s the rub: Houston’s passing defense isn’t very good. While their rushing defense is one of the best in the country, their ability to defend the throw is something that Memphis, and specifically Paxton Lunchcan exploit. If the Tigers’ quarterback can get going early, Memphis could give Houston a lot of trouble in the air, and keep this from being a blowout in the Cougars’ favor, or even blowing them out themselves by getting Houston behind early and forcing them to start passing.
Lock Down Lunch, Lock Down The Game
If Houston can defend the pass well enough to hold of Lynch and the rest of the Tigers for 60 minutes, they could find themselves on the right end of a big enough win that could start seeing them slide up in the committee’s rankings. Anything less than that though, and it won’t matter if they win Saturday, or even go undefeated.