Oklahoma and Houston kicked off an incredible college football opening weekend that was full of big matchups and surprise results. In case you missed it, Tom Herman’s 15th ranked Houston Cougars dismantled the Sooners, 33-23, after outscoring Oklahoma 30-13 in the final three quarters. It was an impressive performance by a team considered an 11.5-point underdog, but on a weekend full of upsets and surprises, this outcome should come as a shock to no one. As a matter of fact, college football fans making their playoff picks better believe Houston is a legitimate contender not just to make the playoff, but to contend for a national championship.
What we saw Saturday was Houston picking up right where it left off in 2014, defeating its fifth straight ranked opponent after a 38-24 Peach Bowl victory over then-ninth-ranked Florida State last season. We saw Greg Ward Jr. continue to run Herman’s high-tempo, spread offense to near-perfection, passing for 321 yards, the third-highest total in his career, and two touchdowns. Sophomore RB Duke Catalon made the most of his touches, rushing 22 times for 88 yards and catching four passes, one for a touchdown. While junior WR Steven Dunbar had a career day with seven catches for 125 yards. Although, Linell Bonner arguably had the best catch of the day.
This offensive performance doesn’t come as a surprise, though. Herman’s offenses have been successful everywhere he’s gone. Last season, Houston scored the tenth most points per game of any team in the FBS. In 2014, Ohio State ranked fifth in points per game with Herman as its offensive coordinator, and don’t forget that it was Herman’s offensive leadership that helped lead the 2014 Buckeyes to a Big Ten and National Championship with a third-string quarterback.
It’s the other side of the ball that may surprise some people. Defensively, the Cougars ranked 16th amongst all FBS schools in opponents’ points per game last season. They definitely showed the same kind of dominance Saturday, holding Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense to 23 points, 20.5 less than the 43.5 points per game the Sooners put up last season. After returning seven of their top 11 defensive players from last season, there is no doubt the Cougars will continue to make things difficult for opposing offenses.
Houston will spend this season navigating through a fairly simple American Athletic Conference schedule, avoiding upsets from pesky conference foes like Cincinnati, Connecticut, Tulsa, and SMU, before a home matchup with Louisville on Thursday, November 17. If they can get by Louisville, which they will, they shouldn’t have an issue in their final two matchups with Memphis and the AAC East Division champion in the AAC Championship game. That would give Houston a resume with two or three quality wins, no losses, and a conference championship.
At this point, it looks like Alabama is a good bet to make the College Football Playoff. Joining them will likely be the ACC champion, which is sure to be Clemson or Florida State, and the Big Ten champion, which will either be Ohio State or Michigan, although Michigan State has an outside chance at the conference crown. That leaves the fourth spot up for grabs, and unless Stanford can run the table in the Pac-12 or Texas continues to roll after an impressive offensive performance against Notre Dame in week one, an undefeated Houston will be a no-brainer to fill it.
The potential playoff matchups are incredibly exciting as we could see a Tom Herman-Urban Meyer reunion. While Meyer may have the upper hand due to experience, both teams will be familiar with the other’s offense, creating quite the spectacle. We could also see Houston go up against Alabama, a team that Herman has experience beating after the Buckeyes won a 42-35 shootout in the 2014 CFP semi-final. Houston’s physical defense would match up well against Clemson or Florida State, and while Stanford’s offense may put up a ton of points, Houston would have no problem keeping up on the offensive side of the ball if the Cardinal somehow make the playoff.
Some may call it a reactionary pick based on one game and one result, but it’s not. It’s a pick based on a coach and his team’s upward trend and consistent success. It’s a storyline worth following and it’s a bet worth placing. Houston will rock through their schedule and will roll right into the College Football Playoff, whether you like it or not.
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