Vaulting over traditional powers
A Friday night fancy: Houston Cougars roll into Top 25, validating controversialTV plan
The controversial Friday night lights plan is already paying dividends for the University of Houston's football team. A little late-night ESPN facetime turned out to be just what the national recognition doctor ordered for the Cougars.
In the wake of a 54-24 wipeout of UTEP in Houston's first TV game of the season — and its first game essentially competing against Texas high school football games, which are a near religious institution in the state — Kevin Sumlin's team vaulted back into the Top 25. The Cougars made their first 2010 appearance in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Poll on Sunday, getting ranked No. 23 in both polls.
Now, Houston (2-0) takes a ranking into this Saturday night's important game against an 0-2 UCLA team. Even though the game is on the road in a BCS team's stadium, the Cougars could even be favored over the Bruins.
That's what scoring 122 points in two games will do for you. For it's not who Houston has beat — a second-tier, lower-division FCS team in Texas State in the opener and a UTEP team playing without its best player (running back Donald Buckram) — as much as how it's done it that's captured the voters' attention.
The Cougars are playing near video-game football, putting up numbers that would make any defensive mind outside of Rex Ryan sick.
Getting noticed nationally drove UH's decision to play two games on Friday night this season. A number of high school coaches spoke out against the plan, feeling it took away from the long tradition of Friday nights being high school football's exclusive domain. Super college Texas traditionalists hated it even more.
"I don't think it's the right thing to do," Bob Easley, one of Bear Bryant's Junction Boys at Texas A&M, told CultureMap before the season. "Some things are special and the Friday night football in Texas is right up there. You don't mess with that."
Or maybe you do if you're a program in the largely afterthought Conference USA that dreams (more and more rightly so) of bigger things.
Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades never wavered with the Friday night showcases and now it's hard to argue that the Cougars would have made it back into the Top 25 without the TV platform. (Houston spent much of last season ranked before a few late losses).
Now, the question shifts to how UH's lifeline quarterback will feel for UCLA. The Heisman-promoted Case Keenum wobbled off the field in the third quarter of the UTEP romp and was examined for a concussion on the sideline.
At least Keenum can take pride in the fact that his school — often-discounted Houston — now sits only one spot below Penn State, one of college football's all-time powers, in the AP Top 25. That's a heady tradition grab of the Cougars' own.