by: Garret Heinrich (@GarretHeinrich)
Houston (CBS HOUSTON) – The Houston Cougars have to be kicking themselves for two losses that derailed what could have been a dream season. Heading into the 2016 season the Cougars were ranked 13th in the nation and had a schedule with enough quality opponents that they could have been the first non-power five conference team to break into the College Football Playoffs.
There was only one way to do it as well. The Coogs had to go undefeated. Head coach Tom Herman said, even before the season that the goal was to win the American Athletic Conference for a second consecutive year. They didn’t need to go undefeated to do that. And now, after losses to Navy and to SMU in conference Herman’s goal is out of reach.
Even if UH was able to go undefeated, before the season started it, seemed like they could easily be left out of the playoff picture. The would have played two quality teams, Oklahoma (started the year ranked 3rd) and Louisville (started the year ranked 19th). With so many good teams playing hard non-conference schedules, the Cougars could have been on the outside looking in but just barely. It would have taken 2-3 other undefeated teams to really knock them out, but it still would have been a big win to be undefeated to push the establishment and say “we were undefeated and you didn’t give us a shot!” It would have made it easier for the next non-power five school who did what the Cougars did.
But it didn’t happen. They aren’t the Cinderella story, and it is even harder to look back at now because everything fell right for the Coogs.
To get in, UH needed some breaks. After they beat Oklahoma, their first HUGE step to making the college football playoffs, (I broke down what else needed to happen to get this program in the top four) they still needed help if they were to go undefeated.
And now the city of Houston would be getting ready for the biggest game of the season. A huge matchup for everything when UH hosts Louisville, at home, on a Thursday night in what could have been an almost playoff into the playoff. Louisville will be at TDECU stadium this week, but now it is only crucial to the Cardinals if they want to make the playoffs. They crushed Florida State, they lost a close game to Clemson and now they could find a spot in the College Football Playoffs if htey can take down UH. Something UH was saying to themselves about beating Louisville.
If, and it was a huge if for the season is dark and full of terrors, Tom Herman could have stopped the Triple Option in Annapolis and beaten an inferior SMU team, everything else fell the way of the Cougars. You could legitimately be looking at a game on Thursday that was against possibly the #3 and #4 teams in the country.
Houston would have a better resume than every other team except Alabama to make it into the college football playoff.
Undefeated. Win your Conference. Beat your best opponents.
All of it was there, and they got the help they would have needed, culminating this past weekend. Clemson lost to unranked Pitt. Washington loses to USC as the entire Pac 12 is down and probably won’t get a single team into the playoffs. Michigan drops a tough game to Iowa and still has to play Ohio State and possibly the Big 10 championship game.
Ohio State and Michigan could both end up with at least two losses. Oklahoma played great and could finish with losses to only Ohio State and Houston, that would have helped Oklahoma out, Houston would always have that over the Sooners.
Clemson, Florida State, and Louisville all would have a shot to get in, but a win over Cardinals would have made the Coogs the better choice (even though one of them might still have got in.)
Looking back at those two losses, to beatable teams, it just shows how volatile college football is. They would be in the catbird seat, facing the eventual Heisman trophy winner, on Thursday night to determine which of the two make the College Football Playoffs. But two little stumbles have spun the Coogs season from breakers of the glass ceiling to spoilers.
As my grandma used to say to me when I would bugaboo about problems, “I’ll bugaboo you.” And I never really quite knew what that meant, but I think it meant, stop complaining, you should have done better, but do better next time.
That is what is in store for the Cougars now. It’s on to next year. In this great game called College Football, you can only do one thing and that is to win all your games. It’s the only sure thing, and even that isn’t a sure thing. So on Thursday night the Coogs might have an impact on the College Football Playoff, and just because it isn’t the impact they wanted when the season kicked off at NRG Stadium, it doesn’t make it less important, to Louisville. So now is the time to play spoiler, be proud to be the SMU to Louisville. You are already the Navy to Oklahoma.