At the end of the 2015 regular season, Houston head coach Tom Herman talked of the rich history of Cougar football as a building block for the program’s future.
He alluded to the Cotton Bowl teams of the 1970s and Andre Ward’s Heisman Trophy of 1989, as noted in my Making The Program feature. Those teams to which Herman made reference were “power” before capital-p Power became a common adjective around the sport.
A win like Saturday’s deceptively dominant showing against reigning Big 12 champion and preseason favorite Oklahoma is hardly unprecedented in the illustrious history of Houston football. However, since the fracturing of the Southwest Conference — which could not have come at a worse time for the Cougars, hit hard with NCAA sanctions in the early 1990s — Houston’s been grouped with the others.
Non-power program. It’s a label that comes with clear implications. It’s a label that says you won’t compete for national championships and your players will get Heisman nominations, but only under the auspices of fairness. A non-power program player isn’t actually winning the thing.
To watch Houston on Saturday, none of the implications that come with being a non-power program applied. The Cougars took a team just a few months from the College Football Playoff to the woodshed for the better part of the second half, dominating on the lines and exploiting miscues.
And as far as the Heisman, Greg Ward Jr. didn’t show off the running explosiveness that made him one of the nation’s premier dual-threat quarterbacks a season ago, but his passing game has never been more on point.
He delivered not just big plays, but timely plays at times Houston most needed it.
Houston QB Greg Ward Jr is clutch. pic.twitter.com/vV8d4kkj1C
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 3, 2016
“Power”ful effort indeed.
The aforementioned conversation with Herman came before the Cougars dominated Temple to seal the 2015 American Athletic Conference championship, prior to their two-score defeat of Florida State in the Peach Bowl, and well before Saturday’s win over Oklahoma.
Between the Seminoles and Sooners, Houston’s last two opponents, the Cougars have wins over programs that have combined for four national championships, seven title game appearances and two Playoff trips in the years since UH’s decline from power-conference distinction.
In that same time, Houston hasn’t exactly been Little Sisters of the Poor. In the last decade, UH has four 10-plus win seasons and a couple of Top 25 finishes. This isn’t a program that’s come from nowhere like Boise State, a former two-year college and Div. I-AA call-up not long before its breakout on the national stage.
Talk of Big 12 Conference realignment dominating this past offseason focused primarily on Houston, and not exclusively because of the Cougars’ geography. UH belongs with football’s power programs, because it’s been one.
Saturday was nothing new.