The Pallilog

On Texans-Colts, college football in Texas and more

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The Texans winning the AFC South at 11-5 has already certified 2018 as a good season. But they have to beat the Colts for the season to be considered any better than good. The division title rings hollow if the Texans lose at home to the Colts for the second time in less than a month.

Both teams rose from the near-NFL dead to get here. The Texans going 11-2 after their 0-3 start, the Colts an even more amazing 9-1 finish to climb from a 1-5 ditch. The Colts appear to be the slightly better and more balanced team right now, but it's the same team that lost 6-0 at Jacksonville the week before winning at NRG Stadium.

Within one game past performance, trends, and any other data can mean absolutely nothing. The Texans sure hope so on this: Deshaun Watson was the most sacked (62 times) quarterback in the NFL this season, and also the most sacked per pass attempt among full-time starters. Andrew Luck threw 134 more passes than Watson this season, and was sacked just 18 times. The Texans did sack Luck four times in the first meeting, but the Colts were minus injured left tackle Anthony Castonzo and Luck did throw for 464 yards and four touchdowns.

Luck should edge out J.J. Watt for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Both have had marvelous return seasons, but Luck is more critical to his team's success. He lit up the Texans' secondary to the extent that if his two games vs. the Texans were extrapolated over a 16 game schedule Luck and not Patrick Mahomes would be the rightful Most Valuable Player winner. Unless Watt or Jadeveon Clowney has a superstar level game there's not much reason to believe Luck won't be prolific again, unless Texans Destroyer T.Y. Hilton is significantly hindered by his gimpy ankle.

For the Texans, Keke Coutee could be a serious wild card. Coutee's seemingly porcelain hamstring is cleared to play, will it hold up in his first game since November? Coutee could make some hay working underneath as the Colts' defense rightfully focuses on DeAndre Hopkins. In last month's loss to the Colts Hopkins posted a season low 36 receiving yards on just four catches. Remember, in the game at Indy Coutee debuted with 11 receptions. If the Texans' running game remains as inept as it's been the past four weeks, someone other than Watson or Hopkins needs to produce.

Bowled over

Other than the playoff semifinal games, other than for preening purposes and coach bonuses, college football bowl results mean very little. Teams play for the first time in several weeks, motivation levels vary, and increasing numbers of players are opting to skip the bowl game and the injury risk that comes with playing,

That said, for the two flagship college programs in Texas the needles are pointing up in 2019. Though Darrell Royal is spinning in his grave if Longhorns consider a 10-4 season means "We're baaaaack!"

While the Horns took it to fifth ranked Georgia, the Aggies blew out an overmatched North Carolina State team. So when the final AP rankings come out after Monday's Alabama-Clemson championship game, for just the second time this millennium Texas and Texas A&M will both finish in the Top 25. 2012 is the only season before this one it's happened. How amazingly lame is that?

Jimbo Fisher's 9-4 debut season in Aggieland goes down as good but not better than that, and certainly not the results that will be deemed acceptable over the life of Fisher's 10 year $75 million dollar contract. Among the Aggies' road games in 2019: at Clemson, at Georgia, and at LSU. A&M must break through and win at least one of those (and not blow any home games) for Fisher to really have the program on the come.

Right now, Tom Herman's upcoming third season at UT in would have Texas favored in every game on its schedule. That includes LSU in Austin, and post-Kyler Murray Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.

The undefeated

While UH football tries to buy status by lavishing Dana Holgorsen with a five year $20 million dollar deal, it's Cougar basketball doing the great things. 14-0 for Kelvin Sampson's squad heading into Sunday's home game vs. Penny Hardaway's Memphis Tigers before a test of a road stop at Temple on Wednesday. It's not the Final Four people dream of, but the Cougars are among the final four undefeated teams among the 353 who started the season in D1 college hoops (Michigan, Virginia, Nevada).

Buzzer Beaters

1. James Harden is on an utterly awesome offensive roll. Rules different, but Kobe Bryant was not this good. 2. 65 degrees and mostly sunny, so of course the Texans will have the roof closed. $50 million dollar boondoggle. 3. If exactly one Wild Card road team wins this weekend: Bronze-Chargers Silver-Seahawks Gold-Colts.

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McCullers Jr. had nine strikeouts over four

McCullers Jr. looks sharp in tune-up before Rangers overpower Houston's bullpen

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Despite watching their chance to clinch their playoff spot on the field slip away in the walk-off loss on Friday, the Astros benefited from a loss by the Angels later in the night, securing their playoff berth. That meant they could play conservatively in the final two games of the season against the Rangers in Arlington. Here's a quick rundown of Saturday's matchup:

Final Score: Rangers 6, Astros 1.

Record: 29-30, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Jimmy Herget (1-0, 3.20 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Brandon Bielak (3-3, 6.75 ERA).

McCullers Jr. looks playoff-ready 

With nothing substantial to play for, the Astros did not expect to ask Lance McCullers Jr. to go deep into Saturday's game, instead giving him a few innings for a tune-up before assuming whatever role he would play in the post-season. He looked impressive, a promising sign after his injury stint and struggles on the road at points this season.

He finished four innings, during which he racked up a season-high nine strikeouts while giving up no runs on just two hits, both singles, and two walks. His final line: 4.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 0 HR, 61 P.

Both teams trade runs as  they go to their bullpens

Meanwhile, neither team was getting much going at the plate in the early goings, keeping it a scoreless game through the first five. Brandon Bielak took over for McCullers Jr. starting in the fifth but would allow the first run of the night in the bottom of the sixth as the Rangers would get three singles to take a 1-0 lead.

After Kyle Gibson held the Astros at bay for six innings, Houston would get on the board against Texas' bullpen, getting a leadoff double by Aledmyz Diaz in the top of the seventh. Diaz moved to third on a sac bunt, then scored on a sac fly by Jack Mayfield, making it 1-1.

Rangers blow it open in the seventh

The tie didn't last long, as Bielak would put two on base in the bottom of the seventh before giving up a three-run homer to make it a 4-1 Rangers lead. Andre Scrubb was next out of Houston's bullpen and allowed a solo home run on his first pitch. Scrubb would complete the inning, but not before allowing another run on three singles to push Texas' lead to 6-1.

Cy Sneed was next out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth and tossed a scoreless frame with two strikeouts. Houston would not make the unlikely comeback in the top of the ninth, with the Rangers taking the game 6-1.

Up Next: The last game of the Astros' 2020 regular season will be Sunday at 2:05 PM Central, as are most other games on the MLB slate on the league's final regular-season day. Houston's starter is TBD as they will continue to preserve their arms for the best-of-three first round that starts on Tuesday, while Texas will send Jordan Lyles (1-6, 7.08 ERA) to the mound.

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