Both Houston and SMU look forward to 2015 with lively, young head coaches, both of whom flourished as coordinators in their previous stops.
Houston’s Tom Herman and SMU’s Chad Morris bring proven offensive acumen, each guiding two of the nation’s most exciting offenses at Ohio State and Clemson, respectively. Their respective brands of uptempo football will play well at programs that thrived with exciting offense at various times in recent season.
Though they come to their new homes from the outside, Herman and Morris are both Texans.
What makes Tom Herman and Chad Morris so similar also gives the potential for Houston and SMU to develop a fun rivalry in the American Athletic Conference.
The conference’s two Texas-based programs have shared a conference since 1976 barring SMU’s brief time in the WAC. It started in the Southwest and they were reunited 10 years after the SWC’s demise in Conference USA. The duo two-stepped into the American together in 2013.
With their shared history and the geographic pairing, a rivalry seems natural.
However, Houston and SMU are nothing more than conference dates on each other’s schedule. They play in early October this coming season, and there’s no trophy at stake. SMU has faced an American Athletic West division opponent for a rivalry trophy before: That’s newcomer Navy, which played with the Gansz Trophy at stake.
The Houston-SMU series has been historically inconsequential. The Cougars were decent during SMU’s glory days of the Pony Express era in the early 1980s, but not at the level of the Mustangs. At other times in the series, it’s been Houston out in front of SMU — and it’s rarely been close.
Houston’s success in the late 1980s, which included quarterback Andre Ware throwing his way to the Heisman Trophy, coincided with the NCAA levying SMU the death penalty.
In fact, Ware’s performance against SMU in the quarterback’s 1989 Heisman season perhaps best crystallizes this rivalry, which has had all the balance of Hammer vs. Nail. The Cougars won, 95-21, behind Ware’s 517 yards passing and five touchdowns, all accumulated in the first half.
A glimmer of a competitive series shined in 2009 when the Mustangs and Cougars fought for the C-USA West division championship. But Houston’s success continued in the half-decade since, leaving the Cougars with a solid foundation.
Herman inherits a Houston program that’s gone bowling 10 times in the last 12 years. Predecessors Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin parlayed successful runs with the Cougars into gigs at Baylor and Texas A&M, two of the Lone Star State’s thriving programs. Herman’s current recruiting efforts are generating a big-time feel at Houston — so much so, he’s even given the previously played-out cryptic commitment tweet a fun new twist.
— Tom Herman (@CoachTomHerman) June 30, 2015
There’s no doubt Morris is playing catch-up to Herman in all facets. Though June Jones resuscitated a program that spent almost two decades in a coma after suffering the death penalty, the pairing went sour for his final two years in Dallas. Last year’s 1-11 finish was as bad as any of the Mustangs’ awful post-death penalty campaigns.
Morris is off to a decent enough start. His first recruiting class 11 3-star prospects, all of whom are from Texas. Morris’ ability to establish consistent pipelines into the state’s power programs is essential to SMU’s feasibility.
Considering the coach is a 15-year veteran under Texas’ Friday night lights, just six years removed from leaving the prep ranks to join Todd Graham at Tulsa, Morris shouldn’t have too much trouble networking in the state’s high schools.
As for the potential of Houston becoming a rival to SMU, the Mustangs can muster disdain for their in-state, American foe by taking a page from the aforementioned 1989 game. Seriously.
After the 74-point rout, then-SMU head coach Forrest Gregg blasted Jack Pardee for running up the score.
“I don’t appreciate it,” he said via the New York Times. They had their second and third defense in there in the second and third quarters, but I didn’t see any reason why they had to keep sending in fresh receivers to blow by our kids, who were obviously tired.”
Last season’s contest was a much more reasonable, 35-9 Cougar win. Still, Houston’s longtime superiority should give SMU motivation in its rebuild. Within the American, Houston is Texas’ big brother. Chad Morris is the fuel Little Brother needs to grow up and pay back past bullying in kind.
It may not happen right away, but the elements for Houston and SMU to have a relationship more resembling a rivalry exist.