The Houston Cougars begin a new era under new head coach Major Applewhite with a road game against the Texas-San Antonio Road Runners. The game is set to kickoff at 7:00 EST Saturday, September 2, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, which is UTSA’s home field. The game will be televised by the recently launched Stadium television network.

The Cougars are listed as 12.5-point favorites. However, much of the betting action as favored UTSA to this point, as Houston opened as 15.5-point favorites. This matchup has an over/under of 51.5 points. Click here for a full list of Week 1 betting odds.

UTSA vs. Houston Vegas Odds & Betting Preview

Houston experienced tremendous success under Tom Herman, going 22-4 over the past two seasons, including a 13-win season and top-10 ranking in 2015. Those two seasons under Herman have set the bar incredibly high for Applewhite, who spent the past two seasons as Houston’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Aside from last year’s Las Vegas Bowl loss to Baylor, the opener against UTSA will be Applewhite’s debut as a head coach. However, he’s served as an assistant under Herman, Mack Brown, and Nick Saban, so he’s learned from some of the best in the game. With Applewhite spending the last two seasons as Houston’s offensive coordinator, there is hope that this will be a seamless transition and that he’ll be able to pick up where Herman left off.

UTSA, meanwhile, is in a much different spot. The Roadrunners made the transition to FBS in 2012 and joined Conference USA in 2013. But they’ve found is difficult to find sustained success. Larry Coker, who helped UTSA make the transition to FBS, resigned after the 2015 season following back-to-back losing seasons. 

Frank Wilson took over in 2016 and brought the Roadrunners to their first ever bowl game last season. The hope is that they can continue to build off of that progress. But that may be easier said than done, especially with a season-opener against a program like Houston.

Free NCAAF Football Pick Against the Spread: Houston -12.5

Much of the betting action is in favor of the Roadrunners, with the expectation that Houston is poised for a step back this year and the belief that UTSA is prepared to take a step forward. However, with the line coming down, I would lean toward Houston being able to cover.

The Cougars have some question marks, most notably a running game that was quite inept last season that Herman and company were able to hide. However, Houston is in good shape at the quarterback position with Kyle Allen ready to step in for Greg Ward Jr. Allen was once one of the top recruits in the country. He sat out last season after transferring from Texas A&M, and that year inside the program should have made him comfortable with Applewhite’s offense and prepared to take over for Ward. 

Houston will also return all five starters on the offensive line, which means that group should improve considerably this season. Allen will also have some talented receivers at his disposal. Linell Bonner caught 98 passes for over 1,100 yards last season, and Steve Dunbar and John Leday aren’t too shabby either, giving the Cougars a potent passing attack, even if they can’t get their running game going.

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On the other side of the ball, the Houston defense took heavy losses from last year’s team. However, Herman’s success has allowed the Cougars to recruit at a high level, so there should be plenty of players waiting in the wings who are capable of stepping into starting roles. The player to watch is defensive tackle Ed Oliver, a five-star recruit who showed incredible potential as a true freshman last year. He’s a potential game changer on the defensive line.

To be fair, the Roadrunners have a senior quarterback in Dalton Sturm who threw 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions a year ago. Much of UTSA’s receiving corps remains in tact, so the team’s passing attack has huge upside. However, with two new starting tackles on the offensive line, the Roadrunners may be vulnerable to Oliver and Houston’s powerful defensive front.

The Roadrunners will fancy themselves as capable of pulling off the upset. But I think Allen will be ready to lead the Houston offense and move the ball well enough to deliver a double-digit win for the Cougars that covers the spread.