Both the Commodores and the Cougars accepted their invitations after earning 8–4 records in their respective season schedules. This was the first BBVA Compass Bowl for both Vanderbilt and Houston, as well as the first time the schools had played each other in football.
The Commodores continued their winning ways under third-year coach James Franklin, finishing the season 8–4 overall and 4–4 in conference play, which was good enough for fourth place in the SEC East. At season's end, they accepted an invitation to play in the game. This will be the first January bowl game for the Commodores. All previous bowl appearances for the school were in December games. Statistical leaders for the Commodores are Jerron Seymor, 144 rushes for 627 yards; Austyn Carta-Samuels, 193 passes for 2,268 yards for 11 touchdowns; Jordan Matthews, who caught 107 passes for 1,334 yards and 5 TDs; Kenny Ladler and Darreon Herring had 87 and 80 tackles respectively.
The Cougars' first season as a member of the American Athletic Conference marked a return to their winning ways, seeing the team finishing 8–4 overall and 5–3 in conference play which was good for fourth in the conference. At season's end, they accepted the invitation to play in the game. Statistical leaders for the Cougars are Ryan Jackson, 137 rushes for 655 yards; John O'Kom, 239 passes for 2,889 yards for 26 touchdowns; Deontay Greenberry, who caught 76 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs; Efrem Oliphant and Derrick Mathes had made 123 and 110 tackles respectively during the season.