No. 20 Houston has been given the opportunity to make an emphatic closing statement against an SEC team when it squares off against an Auburn team Tuesday that is looking to avoid its first losing season since 2012. The Tigers have lost four consecutive games, including the four-overtime loss to top-ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl the last weekend of November.
The Cougars fell to No. 4 Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game on Dec. 4 but had ripped off 11 straight wins prior to the game vs. the Bearcats. This will be a big test for Dana Holgorsen’s crew considering the Tigers should have a massive home-field advantage in Birmingham.
What should you expect in the Birmingham Bowl? Let’s break it down and make picks straight up and against the spread.
Auburn vs. Houston: Need to know
Auburn’s quarterback position: The last time we saw Auburn play, backup quarterback T.J. Finley was fighting through a leg injury to try and muster up any kind of offense in the Iron Bowl. He was only in that position due to the season-ending leg injury to Bo Nix, who has since transferred to Oregon. Finley will play against the Cougars and do so with coach Bryan Harsin calling the shots instead of recently-fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Finley said during bowl prep that Harsin likes to use more tempo and shifts at the line of scrimmage, which fits into what Finley likes as a player.
Third-down defense: The Cougars lead the nation in third-down defense with 25.58% conversion rate, and it’ll be interesting to see how they attack a Tigers team that has running back Tank Bigsby and a stable of tight ends to use off play-action. Houston is coming off of an AAC title performance in which it prevented the Bearcats from converting all eight of their third-down chances. How Holgorsen’s defense approaches Auburn’s more limited offense on third down could be a defining factor.
Missing corners: Both teams will have major losses in the secondary. Auburn cornerback Roger McCreary, the No. 33 overall NFL Draft prospect in the CBS Sports prospect rankings, announced last week that he will sit this one out and begin his preparation for the NFL Draft. Houston’s Marcus Jones, a second-team All-American according to CBS Sports, also opted out to start his quest to the pros. Jones is currently tied for second in the nation with five interceptions this season. Will that impact play calling? It should.
How to watch Birmingham Bowl live
Game: Birmingham Bowl
Date: Tuesday, Dec. 28 | Time: Noon ET
Location: Protective Stadium — Birmingham, Alabama
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Birmingham Bowl prediction, picks
Featured Game | Auburn Tigers vs. Houston Cougars
Auburn’s defensive performance against Alabama in the Iron Bowl was legendary. Sure, it lost, but that doesn’t take away from an incredible performance. I expect that momentum to carry over to the matchup with the Cougars, which will keep this one within arm’s reach for Finley and the offense. The sophomore signal-caller will work off play-action and do enough through the air to get the win. I’ll take the Tigers to cover since a field goal win will cash a ticket for Harsin’s crew. Prediction: Auburn (-2.5)
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