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BBVA Compass Bowl: Preview, Predictions, TV info

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer

What: BBVA Compass Bowl

Who: Houston (8-4, 5-3 American) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC)

When: Saturday, Jan. 4, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Where: Legion Field (80,601), Birmingham, Ala.

Opening Line: Vanderbilt -3

What matters: In the final year under its current title sponsor, the Compass Bowl is offering its most attractive matchup in years, pairing an underrated Cougars team that suffered its four losses by a combined 20 points with the first Commodore squad ever to beat Florida, Tennessee and Georgia in the same season. While the Cougars still have their Kevin Sumlin-developed reputation for offensive wizardry, it was actually their defense -- led by the fearsome linebacking tandem of Efrem Oliphant and Derick Matthews -- that shone brighter in 2013, finishing 16th in the FBS in scoring defense. But Jordan Matthews might have a little something to say about that.

Who matters: Five-star receiver Deontay Greenberry was the highest-ranked recruit to ever sign with Houston when he pledged in spring 2012, and he lived up to that billing and then some in 2013, catching 76 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns. But James Franklin's Commodore teams have consistently fielded some of the best defensive backs in the SEC, and this year was no different thanks to first team All-SEC safety Kenny Ladler and second-team cornerback Andre Hal. If Greenyberry gets his yards against the 'Dores, he'll have earned them.

Matchup question: Despite the gaudy points-allowed numbers, the Cougars still ranked 38th in the FBS in yards per-play allowed and 86th in total defense -- suggesting the 'Dores will get their scoring opportunities. Can one of the nation's top-25 red-zone offenses take advantage?

Prediction: A close game, first and foremost, with two teams that shouldn't lack for motivation (Houston, to prove itself against the SEC, and Vandy, because bowl wins are still the rarest of commodities). But the Cougars' inability to run the ball (82nd in average yards-per-carry) and need to pass could spell doom against the Vandy secondary. Vanderbilt 27, Houston 26.

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