If any assumptions about the College Football Playoff can be made after just one week of action, it’s that the 2016 Houston Cougars could be this season’s Cinderella.
Though the full picture of the College Football Playoff won’t come into focus until late-November, it’s hard to see the top teams not including Houston when that time arrives.
The landscape of college football always includes the bluebloods of the SEC when push comes to shove in the national championship conversation, but this Houston team could easily crash the party. The Cougars proved to the Oklahoma Sooners, and anyone else watching on Saturday, that they have the athletes to compete with any team this season.
“First of all, being around that program, there from Thursday to Saturday, it’s a Power 5 team,” ESPN college football analyst Greg McElroy said on ESPN Radio. “I don’t care what anybody says.”
His praise went on to laud the way the program is run and the caliber of athletes the school is recruiting. Head coach Tom Herman was hired away from Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State in December of 2014, and by a calendar year later, in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve of 2015, Herman’s Cougars upset the No. 9 Florida State Seminoles on one of the biggest stages imaginable.
“I think it’s pretty impressive,” said Houston vice president of athletics Hunter Yurachek to ESPN. “We’re not your typical Group of 5 program. I think you see a lot of Power 5 stuff happening on the Houston sideline and with our fan base. So it sends an impressive message to anybody who’s watching.”
And that message should be loud and clear to all of college football. Houston may play in a league considered to be inferior to those in the so-called Power 5 conferences, but the American Athletic Conference has themselves a budding college football juggernaut in Herman’s Cougars.
But even though the Cougars proved themselves to college football aficionados around the country on Labor Day Weekend, that statement in and of itself shows just how young the season still is. A lot of what transpires for Houston when the first College Football Playoff rankings are released on November 1 hinges upon just how well Oklahoma plays for the remainder of the season. Beating a team that proves to be formidable will carry a great deal more weight in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee than if the Sooners flounder following the defeat to Houston.
Of course, the Cougars will have to take care of the own business as well by running the table in the American Athletic Conference. But the only ranked team on the schedule currently is a November 17 date with the now-No. 19 Louisville Cardinals. If both teams remain undefeated up until that clash, Houston could very likely be playing for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“Hypothetically, in a situation [like Houston going unbeaten], if that team does not get invited to the four-team playoff, then the system is broken,” Herman told USA Today Sports, via the New York Post. “Now, how that applies to us, I don’t know.”
At 14-1 since being hired in Houston, Herman has the Cougars believing in themselves and poised to shock the nation this season. The College Football Playoff had better be ready for a different caliber of opponent this season, because Houston won’t be a pushover when they make the final four teams this New Year’s Eve.
[Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images]