Houston vs. Auburn: Birmingham Bowl Preview and Prediction
Here is everything you need to know about the Birmingham Bowl featuring Houston vs. Auburn.
Noon EST/11 a.m. CST, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021, Protective Stadium, Birmingham, Ala.
TV: ESPN (Wes Durham, Eric MacLain, Taylor Davis)
Sattelite Radio: Bowl Season Radio, Sirius XM, and Online 84
Houston Radio: KPRC AM 950 in Houston, XM 202, Sirius 137 (Kevin Eschenfelder, Ted Pardee, Matt Thomas)
Auburn Radio: Auburn Sports Network, WQSI 93.9 FM in Auburn, Sirius 84, XM 190, National 84 (Andy Burcham, Stan White, Ronnie Brown, Brad Law, Paul Ellen)
Series History: Auburn leads 5-1. Houston leads the series 1-0 at a neutral site, having won the only previous bowl matchup. Houston defeated Auburn in the 1969 Bluebonnet Bowl, which was considered a neutral site despite being played in Houston’s home stadium of the Astrodome.
Betting Lines: Auburn -2.0; Money Line: Auburn -165/Houston +145; Over/Under: 52. 5
Fun Facts: Auburn holds the record for largest margin of victory at Houston. The Tigers won 48-7 at Rice Stadium (yes, the Cougars once called Rice Stadium home) on Oct. 26, 1957. Even during Houston’s worst years, no one has yet to top the 41-point margin of defeat.
HOUSTON (11-2, L 35-20 AT CINCINNATI IN AMERICAN ATHLETIC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME)
WR Nathaniel Dell
Houston has a slew of offensive weapons. Quarterback Clayton Tune was starting games in 2018. Ta’Zhawn Henry is an experienced backup running back. Alton McCaskill is 70 yards from a 1,000-yard rushing season despite splitting carries with Henry. Dell is far and away Tune’s favorite target though. His 80 receptions were more than double that of the second leading receiver (Christian Trahan with 34). Dell averages 14.7 yards per reception, has 12 touchdown receptions, and averages 90.7 yards per game. When Tune drops back to pass, he’s looking for Dell.
DL Derek Parish
Houston will be without its best defensive player in Logan Hall, but Parish has similar statistics to the future NFL prospect. In fact, Parish has more quarterback hits and more tackles than Hall. Parish. During the season, Parish and Hall combined for 24 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Parish contributed 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks of the tandem. Additionally, there is another solid defensive lineman in D’Anthony Jones who has 9.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. This strong defensive front has helped Marcus Jones secure five interceptions on the season. Auburn will be using its second-string quarterback in T.J. Finley after Bo Nix got hurt and entered the transfer portal. The key to this game will be stopping the run.
AUBURN (6-6, L 24-22 IN OT VS. ALABAMA)
RB Tank Bigsby
Quarterback Bo Nix will not be playing. The second-stringer T.J. Finley was nicked up in the game against Alabama but will be ready to play against Houston. Bigsby has rushed for over 1,000 yards on 207 attempts. He will be more important this game than any of the other games this season with a nicked-up second-string quarterback taking the snaps. There is a question on whether Bigsby is committed to Auburn though. He entered the transfer portal for a hot second before deciding to remain at Auburn. Is he going to perform as a committed back or will his mind be wondering what he could possibly do if he did transfer?
EDGE Derick Hall
This player is focused. He’s been asked about things aside from the bowl game and has stated that his mind is “on the task at hand”. Hall is a 6-foot-3, 251-pound rusher. The Houston offensive line is going to have their hands full as Hall has 12 tackles for loss, including nine sacks.
Houston is sick and tired of being considered a “commuter school”. The former Southwest Conference program has had a chip on its shoulder since the mid-90s when the Big 12 chose Baylor and Texas Tech over the Cougars. Houston has produced a Heisman Trophy winner and has played in New Year’s Six bowls. Their basketball program has played in two National Championship games. This school’s alumni base includes major movers and shakers such as Jim Nantz in the broadcasting field and billionaire Tilman Fertitta. For this school, it let out the biggest exhale of the four programs invited to the Big 12 Conference when the invitation hit their office. For the past decade, they’ve been in SEC territory. They’ve had to fight off Texas A&M and LSU for prized recruits in their own backyards such as Ed Oliver and D’Eriq King. This is more than just a game for Houston. This is about pride, respect, and sending a message. A victory over Auburn would make the American Athletic Conference, and the future Big 12 Conference, 2-0 against SEC teams this bowl season. If Houston wins, I can already sense the Cougars fans getting into never-ending jaw matches with the Texas A&M fanbase. Both bases talk up their schools as if they are the best thing since sliced bread and neither of them misses an opportunity to let you know about it. In fact, it might spark the newest non-conference rivalry.
The SEC has used bowl records in the past to manipulate its marketing scheme to build up its brand. What people are just now learning is that the SEC works with the bowls to provide the conference an advantage. It’s starting to backfire on the SEC this year and the conference’s stock is starting to dwindle. Coaches are rejecting offers to coach schools in the conference (Lincoln Riley, anyone?). The SEC is currently 0-2 in bowls this year. Another team, Texas A&M, was forced to forfeit its bowl game due to COVID-19 problems. At this point, the SEC can just say its East Division is weak. If Auburn loses this game, however, that weakness starts seeping into the other division and the stench of horrible bowl season really begins to wreak. This, just as the Big 12 Conference added four teams, three of which have double-digit victories on the season. One of those, UCF, has now produced a history of embarrassing SEC foes. Auburn needs to salvage the SEC bowl season. A loss here will significantly hurt the conference’s brand.
Prediction: Houston 17 Auburn 13
Both teams are limping into this game. More so Auburn than Houston. As always, the SEC fans will certainly bring up the fact that Auburn just wasn’t motivated. If anything, Houston likely scores more points. I don’t think the Auburn offense will produce as solid of a rushing attack as most people think. The Cougars will be able to key on Bigsby considering Finley is hurt. Auburn enters this game on a four-game losing streak. Houston’s only loss in the previous 12 games comes against the lone undefeated school in the nation: Cincinnati. Despite what SEC fans say about “lack of motivation”, Auburn’s going to try and win this game, but Houston has just enough offensive firepower to defeat the Tigers.