While Houston is pegged by many as the best team in the Group of Five conferences — and even a possible College Football Playoff contender — in order to achieve either of those things, the Cougars have to get through the American Athletic Conference first. The Cougars will get their first shot at a conference foe when they travel to Cincinnati on Thursday night.

Houston enters the game with a 2-0 record, beating Oklahoma in the season opener, and having an easy time with Lamar in a 42-0 win last week.

Cincinnati has gotten off to a nice start as well, as the Bearcats are also 2-0 with wins over Tennessee-Martin and Purdue.

Houston won last season’s meeting with the Bearcats, picking up a 33-30 win at TDECU Stadium. It was the first time Houston had beaten Cincinnati since 1999, as the Bearcats had won five straight in the series. The two schools have met 24 times, with Cincinnati holding a 14-10 edge.

Houston Storyline: Every game is a huge game if you’re the Cougars this season. Simply put, while Power Five schools can afford a loss if they want to reach the College Football Playoff, Houston can’t. There’s no room for error. So this is a major game for the Cougars, as Cincinnati looks to be one of the stronger teams in the AAC this season, and it’s possible this could be the first of two meetings between the two teams. A major factor for Houston will be the health of Greg Ward Jr. An injured shoulder kept him out of Houston’s 42-0 win over Lamar last week, but he’s in line to play against the Bearcats.

Cincinnati Storyline: Cincinnati is coming off a road victory against Purdue last week. It was the first time Cincinnati has gone on the road to beat a Big Ten team in 59 years. Now the Bearcats will follow that up by hosting a top-1o team at Nippert Stadium for the first time since West Virginia came to town in 2007.

Game Pick: Cincinnati +7.5. It’s not just that Cincinnati gave Houston a more difficult time than most last season, though that certainly plays a role in the pick. Still, more than anything, it’s important to remember that this game is being played on a short week for both teams. Underdogs are typically strong picks on weeknight games, especially when those underdogs are also the home team, so I feel comfortable choosing the Bearcats to cover.

For full Week 3 picks against the spread, check out our Expert Picks page.

Source: CBS Sports Headlines / No. 6 Houston at Cincinnati line, game pick: Houston opens AAC play on the road