There’s a chance that the University of Houston runs the table this college football season, winning the American Athletic Conference and finishing with victories over non-conference opponents who were, at the time they played, ranked in the top 5 in the country.
There’s also a chance that, even if they do all that, they’ll be left out of the College Football Playoff by the selection committee.
If that happens, so far as head coach Tom Herman sees it, the system is broken. Said Herman, to Tiki and Tierney on CBS Sports Radio 650:
“If there was a team that went undefeated in the American Conference, that beat the preseason No. 3 team at a neutral site, and that team then went on to finish first or second in the Big 12, and then, you know, beat a top 5 ACC team at home on a Thursday night late in the year, and that team doesn’t go to the playoff, then that system is broke.”
It’s hard to argue Herman’s point.
But there are a lot of hypotheticals there.
First, the Coogs will need to beat No. 3 Louisville, which is at this point a tall order for anybody. The Cardinals feature the Heisman front-runner in QB Lamar Jackson (who has more touchdowns himself, 8, than 120 FBS teams), plus the nation’s No. 1 total offense (679 yards per game), No. 1 scoring offense (65.0 points per game) and a defense that ranks fifth in FBS in sacks (13.0). They may not be as deep as Ohio State and Alabama, but as Vince Young, Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton have proven, elite QBs can elevate good teams beyond even better teams.
Next, they’ll have to go unscathed in the American, though that should be easier in 2016 than it was a year ago. Navy just isn’t the same without Keenan Reynolds at QB, Memphis isn’t the same without Paxton Lynch at QB and first-year Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente, and Tulsa, SMU, UCF and Tulane are, frankly, Tulsa, SMU, UCF and Tulane.
But, Greg Ward Jr.’s health will be, as it was last season a huge factor. Herman has said that there’s no risk of re-injury to his throwing shoulder, but Ward’s injury history extends beyond that — he had an ankle injury last season that knocked him out of the Memphis game and sidelined him from the following week against UConn, which gave UH its only loss on the year. There’s no pressure like that of perfection, and Ward’s durability issues don’t make that any easier.
Regardless what happens to Oklahoma the rest of the way — though if don’t think they’re a top two team in the Big 12, you’re seriously underestimating Ohio State and UH — if the Coogs take care of business, they shouldn’t have anything to worry about. If the College Football Playoff selection committee is charged with finding the four best teams in the country, based on their (1) record, (2) schedule, (3) the eye test and (4) stats, they should make it in comfortably. Fans and media can talk all they want about Group of Five vs. Power Five, but if that’s the criteria, those four bullet points, all the supposed challenges of playing in a Power Five conference are already accounted for.
What also works in UH’s favor is, incidentally, all of the intangibles that likely hurt Baylor and TCU two years ago. Houston is the sixth biggest TV market in the country. Herman is a national star, for his ability as a coach and his bold personality. While the Coogs may not have the pedigree of a Michigan or Clemson, they’re every bit as good a story, if not better. They’re also (in maybe the most important factor for a tournament worth about $470 million annually to the NCAA’s broadcast partner, ESPN) a TV ratings boon. Their Peach Bowl win over Florida State was the highest non-College Football Playoff game of the bowl season a year ago, and their season opening win over Oklahoma pulled a 3.5 on opening weekend, behind only Alabama’s romp of USC (7:00 pm) and Wisconson’s upset of LSU (3:35 pm), each of which netted a 3.5.
If the decision becomes superficial, UH might enjoy a boost.
Ultimately, Herman’s point is a fair one, it’s just unlikely that we’re presented with that scenario. That said, if UH does run the table, including a win over Louisville in November, and isn’t playing for a National Championship, then, well, the college football powers that be will have a lot to mull over this offseason.
Matt Hammond hosts Saturdays from 1-4 pm on SportsRadio 610, and fill ins during the week. You can, and totally should, follow him on Twitter @MattHammondShow.