2021 AAC Championship Game Pick and Prediction: How to watch Houston vs. Cincinnati

The Houston vs. Cincinnati matchup in the 2021 AAC Championship Game has genuine College Football Playoff permutations for the Bearcats.

The American Athletic Conference proudly calls itself the “Power Six,” and this college football season, it may have more right to that claim than ever before. The AAC Championship Game is one of six conference games that feature two ranked teams going head to head. Furthermore, Houston vs. Cincinnati has serious College Football Playoff permutations. It will be must-see TV, and here’s how to watch, what to watch, and some NFL Draft prospects to watch for!

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Houston vs. Cincinnati  | 2021 AAC Championship Game pick and prediction

  • Spread: Cincinnati -10.5
  • Total: 54 (Over -105, Under -110)
  • Moneyline: Cincinnati -450, Houston +340

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too.” Rudyard Kipling wasn’t writing about the Cincinnati Bearcats, but his poem “If” is somehow pertinent to the underdog contender for the College Football Playoff.

Because Cincinnati has kept their head when every other team — except Georgia — has lost theirs this season. They have been doubted, their résumé scorned. Yet, they have kept trust in their mission. Now, one last test stands between them and a place in the final four. That test is the AAC Championship Game.

It is a test that shouldn’t be understated, underestimated, or underappreciated. Houston vs. Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game will be a battle of two impressive football teams. While Cincinnati basks in the luxurious glow of national attention, Houston has risen from some difficult times in recent seasons to be a college football force once more.

The Cougars have been on a tear since losing to Texas Tech in the opening game of the season. Aside from an overtime win over East Carolina, they’ve won convincingly the rest of the way. And yet, recent history is against them. Cincinnati beat them handily in their last two contests — 38-10 in 2020, 38-23 in 2019 — and since 2000, the Bearcats hold a 7-2 head-to-head record. Can Houston overcome history to deny Cincinnati a place in College Football Playoff history?

AAC Championship Game Pick and Prediction: Cincinnati 30, Houston 24

Top prospects playing

While there are pride and College Football Playoff implications at play in the AAC Championship, Houston vs. Cincinnati also features a glut of genuine 2022 NFL Draft prospects. Many of them will be in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, but for some, this will be the last chance to display their pro potential. Who are the top prospects playing in the AAC Championship Game?


  • Marcus Jones, CB
  • Logan Hall, DT
  • Damarion Williams, CB
  • Max Banes, G
  • D’Anthony Jones, DL
  • Clayton Tune, QB


  • Ahmad Gardner, CB
  • Myjai Sanders, EDGE
  • Desmond Ridder, QB
  • Coby Bryant, CB
  • Alec Pierce, WR
  • Darrian Beavers, LB

Houston offense vs. Cincinnati defense

The intrigue in the AAC Championship Game starts with the matchup between the Houston offense and the Cincinnati defense. The Cougars have the second-highest scoring offense in the AAC and rank ninth nationally with 38.8 points per game. Standing against them is a Bearcats unit that has only allowed 15.8 points per game. Not only is that the best in the AAC, but it’s also the third-ranked scoring defense in the nation.

Furthermore, the Cincinnati defense has only allowed an average of 303.3 yards per game. That ranks second in the AAC and eighth in the nation. Their front seven is loaded with playmakers like Curtis Brooks (11 tackles for loss, 6 sacks), Joel Dublanko (leads the team with 94 tackles), Deshawn Pace (8 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions), and potential first-round NFL Draft selection Myjai Sanders.

When presented like that, the AAC Championship Game seems like a mountain too high for the Cougars. Yet, is there a chink in the Cincinnati defense for Houston to exploit? There may well be. While being a force in the passing game (which we’ll get to momentarily), the Bearcats have been susceptible to the ground attack. They’ve allowed 141.75 rushing yards per game, ranking fourth in the conference and 49th nationally.

The ground game has hardly been Houston’s forte this season. They rank 80th nationally with 149.25 rushing yards per game. However, in Alton McCaskill, they have an explosive weapon on the ground. The Houston running back has 16 touchdowns and 844 rushing yards this season. Additionally, Ta’Zhawn Henry has 7 rushing touchdowns. Furthermore, Cincinnati needs to be aware of Marcus Jones’ ability as a kick returner, with 4 total touchdowns between punt and kickoff returns this season.

Clayton Tune vs. Cincinnati secondary

The Cougars’ Clayton Tune is the quarterback that not enough people will be talking about in this Houston vs. Cincinnati AAC Championship Game.

Tune has outperformed Desmond Ridder in multiple QB metrics, completing 68.7% of his passes for 3,013 yards and 26 touchdowns. After throwing 4 interceptions against Texas Tech, he’s only thrown 4 more in the following 11 games.

Tune’s connection with Nathaniel Dell has the Houston passing offense ranked 23rd in the nation. However, they face their biggest task of the season by far against a Cincinnati secondary that has been practically impenetrable this season. The Bearcats’ passing defense has allowed just 161.5 yards per game, ranking first in the conference and third in the nation.

It is a unit that is packed to the brim with playmakers. It’s been well-publicized that Ahmad Gardner hasn’t allowed a touchdown in his college career. He has also snagged 3 interceptions this season, as has Arquon Bush. Throw in Coby Bryant, Bryan Cook, and Ja’Von Hicks, and you have a test that would be difficult for any quarterback to pass.

Cincinnati offense vs. Houston defense

While the Cincinnati defense has received universal acclaim, the Houston defense has been incredible in its own right. Not only is this AAC Championship a matchup of the two highest-scoring offenses in the nation, but Houston vs. Cincinnati also showcases two of the best total defenses.

Houston leads the AAC in both total defense and run defense. The Cougars have allowed just 289.9 total yards per game this season, ranking sixth in the nation. Additionally, they’ve allowed only 98.33 yards per game on the ground, ranking eighth in the nation. This has the potential to be a huge factor in the game on Saturday.

Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford has been a huge contributor for a Bearcats offense that ranks eighth nationally in scoring offense. He’s accounted for 17 touchdowns while amassing 1,051 rushing yards at 5.8 yards per carry. Also, don’t forget the threat that Ridder possesses in the ground game.

If Houston can neutralize that threat on Saturday, they could sway the game in their favor. Their defense is teeming with players that thrive on getting into the backfield. The unit is led by Logan Hall, who is garnering early-round consideration in the 2022 NFL Draft. Hall has 12 tackles for loss and 5 sacks this season, but the Cougars have multiple players with over 5 tackles for loss in the 2021 college football season.

Desmond Ridder vs. Houston secondary

While the Cincinnati secondary has received much national attention and praise, the Houston unit is impressive in their own right. They’ve allowed just 191.6 yards per game this season, ranking third in the conference and 16th nationally. The cornerback duo of Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams has accounted for 19 pass deflections and 6 interceptions.

Jones leads the nation in interceptions with 5. Although he measures 5’8″, he’s a scrappy coverage CB with excellent ball skills, speed, and a knack for knowing where the ball is. He’s the player who poses the biggest threat to Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game.

Ridder is comfortably the best quarterback that this Houston secondary has faced this season. The Cincinnati quarterback is a genuine dual-threat, with an arm that can deliver the ball all the way downtown.

The accuracy and decision-making remain questionable, but when he delivers a deep ball on target to Alec Pierce, there’s not many more difficult things to defend. Ridder has emerged as a natural leader for the Bearcats and will be motivated to lead this team into the College Football Playoff as his final swan song.

How to watch Houston vs. Cincinnati

  • Start time: Saturday, December 4, 4 PM ET
  • Location: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
  • Channel: ABC
  • Live streams:
    • fuboTV
    • ESPN+

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson.


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