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Houston Falling Short of Lofty Expectations

Reflecting on the last ten weeks of Houston football during their bye week.

NCAA Football: Houston at Southern Methodist Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a 2015 season that saw a 13-1 finish including a Peach Bowl win over then #9 Florida State, expectations were high for the Cougars entering the 2016 season. Even more was expected when they started the season with a win over then #3 Oklahoma, part of a 6-0 start that placed them #6 in the polls. Then a road trip to Annapolis to face Navy ended in a 46-40 loss and the Cougars have yet to recover.

Their hopes to play in the New Year’s Day bowl game took a major hit with that loss, but they still had time to turn things around. Even though they beat Tulsa the following week 38-31, the game should’ve never come down to the wire the way it did. Now after a whipping at the hands of SMU, the Cougars find themselves at 6-2 (falling out of the Top 25) potentially eliminated from a bowl game. In fact the loss to SMU was viewed so badly that it earned Houston a spot on ESPN’s Power (less) Rankings.

There are several theories and perhaps, legitimate reasons as to why the team has ended up in this downward spiral. First is the schedule, with bye week late in the season Houston has played for two straight months without a break. Factor in that they played four games in 19 days in September and it’s easy to see why this could be an issue. The schedule has taken more of a toll than Head Coach Tom Herman thought it would and he’s had to reevaluate his approach on training and practices.

In addition to the grind of the season Houston is also dealing with off the field distractions. First it was the university’s failed pitch (along with three other schools) to become a member of the Big-12. The inability to move into a power football conference and increase revenue for the football program has led to increased speculation that Herman will leave for a more lucrative deal at a bigger program. It’s rumored that he is a top candidate to replace Les Miles at LSU or Charlie Strong at Texas. In fact there have been dueling reports with one saying his move to Texas is all but done and another saying any confirmation of that is premature. The university is making a move to keep Herman with reports that a contract extension offer is in the works.

Regardless of potential coaching changes, Houston still has three games to play including a matchup that many folks had circled on their calendar early into the season against Louisville. Herman is trying to keep the team focused on football and is preaching a 1-0 mentality, meaning focus on winning one game every week and not worrying about future games or other teams. I think a 9-3 record may be the best outcome for Houston, but if they can use the bye week to regroup 10-2 may not be unrealistic.