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Houston vs. Cincinnati 2016: Start time, live stream, TV schedule and 3 things to know

WINNER GETS IN THE BIG 12! That's not true at all. But Thursday night's game has huge subplots.

Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images

No. 6 Houston visits Cincinnati on Thursday night as the American Athletic Conference's clear favorite, the front-runner for the Group of 5's New Year's bowl slot, and a potential Playoff contender. And that's just the stakes on the field at the moment. Tom Herman's team is also trying to get into the Power 5 conferences, and its upset win over Big 12 favorite Oklahoma made its case look a lot harder to turn down.

Cincinnati has also long been considered a top Big 12 candidate, and it would surprise very few people (outside of Provo, Utah) if the conference turned this into a Power 5 game going forward.

Between the sidelines, expect an explosive game. Both offenses ranked in the nation's top 10 in 20-yard plays last year, both have talented skill corps, and both defenses have been dinged through the air this year. The big difference between the two could be UH's front seven, which includes five-star freshman Ed Oliver and held Oklahoma's blue-chip backfield to just 2.7 yards per carry.

How to watch, stream and listen

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Radio: CincinnatiHouston

Online streaming: WatchESPN

Spread: UH is favored by 8.5 points.

Make friends: Underdog Dynasty is SB Nation's blog for all things AAC.

Three big things to know

1. How's Greg Ward Jr.? UH's star quarterback, who threw for 321 yards against the Sooners, sat out Week 2 against FCS Lamar with injury, as did starting running back Duke Catalon. The Cougars didn't need either, and both are cleared to play, but Ward takes a lot of hits. Recall he missed parts of a couple games in 2015, including Houston's only loss, to UConn.

2. This is the first time Nippert Stadium has hosted a top-10 team since West Virginia in 2007, but UC's no stranger to big games. Head coach Tommy Tuberville went undefeated in the SEC in a past life, the Bearcats ranked as highly as No. 4 in December of 2009, and they've won at least nine games for seven of the last nine years.

3. Expect the winning team's fans to bombard you with information on their school's Big 12 qualifications. Leaflets will parachute from the sky. Someone will appear at your door to tell you the good news of the Cougars or Bearcats, respectively. Silence your ringtone and take your social accounts private. Other than BYU, these two schools seem like each other's biggest obstacle to a Big 12 bid, unless they both make it in. So this might be treated more gravely than any other AAC game all year, whether it matters in that sense or not.

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