Half Empty: It’s the Birmingham Bowl. The post-season punchline. And losing it would be worse than not going to a bowl game. Which is why it really kind of sucks that once we accepted that it was actually happening, once it was just a matter of which also-ran would also by vying for the Buns of Steel, it was revealed that Auburn would be playing a, you know, 11-2 Houston team. I mean, I know it’s Houston. But still, that second L was only a 35-20 conference championship game loss to playoffs bound Cincinnati.
Half Full: Despite the Damned If You Win, Even More Damned If You Don’t position Auburn (once again) finds itself in, all the reasons that have most experts picking Houston might also make winning this Birmingham Bowl something close to impressive, something to provide some emotional wiggle room heading into 2022 (especially if Cincinnati somehow shocks the world). The Cougars are apparently decent. Dana Holgorsen is their coach. It might seem, you know, like a quality win or something, especially if it’s decisive.
What are the chances that actually happens? Sports Betting Dime will be releasing the odds soon. In the meantime, let’s throw this matchup under the magnifying glass and see what we can find.
Houston has the sixth best defense in the country in terms of yards allowed per game (298). If Auburn is going to move the ball, the best do it on first or second down as Houston’s defense is the best — yes, the best — in the nation on third downs. They’re good against the run. They’re good against the pass. And in senior DB Marcus Jones, they have a first-team All-American… and a Paul Hornung Award winner. Presumably, that’s for a reason. But I’d just as rather not find out.
On a positive note, the O-Line sputters in pass protection and the running game is delightfully inconsistent.
Despite the rollercoaster that was 2021, the last time the Tigers took the field just felt different. Toe to toe with a team their own playoff team, a squad that, on paper, should have blown them out of the water. There was some swagger back. Will it still be there? With standouts sitting out? With Bo Nix in Nike? Will the home-state crowd be enough?