With their Vegas-projected win total sitting at 2.5 at most major sportsbooks, you could legitimately say that Kansas’s season is already near to exceeding all expectations after a 2-0 start, including an opening win in their Big 12 schedule. This week, they’ll visit Houston, who started the year ranked, but since then have gone on the road twice, played five overtimes, and won one game.
Let’s take a look at the odds, and make some picks for this quietly fascinating down-South matchup
Kansas Vs. Houston Odds
Houston enters this game as a 10-point favorite, a number that is a bit lower than we might have expected before the season, but the somewhat surprising starts from both teams have swung the ball back towards Kansas’s court. The points total is set at 62.5, slightly lower than both teams’ games have been ending, but keep in mind that three of the four games played by these two squads so far have resulted in a total of six overtime periods, which artificially inflate the total scoring for the game.
Will the Jayhawks keep their modest but exciting winning streak alive, or will the heavily-favored
Cougars be able to coast to a much-needed home win?
Kansas Vs. Houston Prediction & Pick
Kansas’s uncharacteristic start to 2022 comes on the heels of a relatively strong finish to last season, including that infamous overtime thriller victory over Texas. QB Jalon Daniels was at the helm for that game and several other solid performances towards the end of the year, and he has picked up right where he left off with a strong start to this season. His offensive line also remains 80% intact, with 4 starters coming back, and Devin Neal, the top RB from a season ago is still in the fold. As far as EPA can measure, this unit’s experience is paying dividends as they are racking up the 12th best offensive EPA/play in the country so far. The defense was surely the weaker side of the ball last year, but a good number of starters return as well, as well as a couple of potentially strong transfers, former Ohio State linebacker Craig Young, and d-lineman Lonnie Phelps, who had an outstanding season at Miami of Ohio last year. The secondary is anchored by safety Kenny Logan, a preseason all-conference selection. Overall, I’m beginning to believe in the Jayhawks’ solid start, as total EPA has them right in the top-40 teams in the nation.
Houston, who finished last season 12-2 and ranked #17 in the final AP poll, are once again led by fifth-year senior QB Clayton Tune, who is coming off a very strong 2021 season. He’ll be throwing the ball to last year’s breakout star Nathan Dell, as well as newcomers Cody Jackson, an Oklahoma transfer, and freshman Matthew Golden, who has already begun to make his mark by scoring his first touchdown of college. The real star unit for Houston, however, is the defense, which was the 6th best group in the country a year ago, by yardage allowed per game. The front seven loses some star power in Logan Hall, but there’s enough experience to go around, and that position group is of essentially no concern for the Cougars. The secondary, the focal point of which will be senior safety Gervarrius Owens, remains much more intact. Houston’s defensive strength, paired with Kansas’s across-the-board improvement, suggests a relatively tight, low-scoring affair; let’s go with Kansas to cover that relatively wide spread, and an under on a somewhat generous points total.
Kansas Vs. Houston Key Matchups
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Kansas Vs. Houston below.
Kansas Air Attack vs. Houston Secondary
Kansas’s passing offense has raced out to an outstanding start, putting up the 13th most EPA/play of any air unit in the country. Meanwhile, despite a relatively slow start to the season defensively, Houston’s passing defense is 34th in the same metric. It’s not hard to imagine a game that is won or lost by these two groups. Kansas’s Daniels has already shown an ability to throw the ball well in the biggest moments; for Kansas to have a chance on Saturday, he’s going to have to do just that. After losing Kwami Lassiter II, the team’s leading receiver from last year, there will need to be increased contributions from the rest of the returning receivers, none of whom had more than 400 yards a year ago.
The Houston group that will be looking to slow down the inexperienced Kansas wideouts is a much more veteran one. Owens was a first-team all-conference pick a year ago, and he’s joined by junior safety Hassan Hypolite, who figures to make a big jump this season. The cornerbacks are dealing with some more turnover, but returners Art Green and Alex Hogan have gotten off to a nice start to the year. Houston’s secondary has all of the talent it needs to keep Kansas’s surprisingly strong passing game at bay, but it’ll need to stay sharp to keep the Cougars on top in this one.
Kansas Front Seven vs. Houston Run Game
So far, Houston’s rushing offense and Kansas’s run defense have been more or less equally mediocre, as both are currently saddled with a slightly negative EPA/play. We’ve already talked some about Kansas’s new-look front seven, and they’ll be going up against an interesting Houston rushing unit. Alton McCaskill, who had a really nice 2021 season, is out for the year with an ACL tear, but last year’s RB2, Ta’Zhawn Henry, shows plenty of promise, and Brandon Campbell, who came over from USC, will be a contributor right away too. The line returns a ton of experience, including first-team all-AAC tackle Patrick Paul, and will be bolstered by Texas transfer Tyler Johnson. It’ll be strength against strength in the trenches on Saturday in Houston; all that remains to be seen is which unit will come out on top in this vital positional skirmish.