HOUSTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 05: Houston Cougars take the field against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles on September 5, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Houston, Memphis and the American Dream for the Cougars

The last time Houston had a chance to step to a moment and make a splash on the national stage, it face-planted.

It was 2011 and the undefeated Cougars, ranked seventh in the AP poll, hosted Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA title game and got run out of their own building, 49-28.

That was a football lifetime ago. That was four quarterbacks ago. That was two coaches ago. The Houston that stepped onto the field Saturday night exorcised all those demons and brought the program a step closer to a New Year’s bowl game.

It doesn’t matter that it was ugly. It doesn’t matter that Memphis scored the game’s first 20 points. It doesn’t matter that the Cougars gave up 490 yards in offense. They won. They scored the game’s final 21 points. They held off a final drive by the Tigers. Everything came up red.

What does matter is that Houston survived the loss of starting quarterback Greg Ward Jr. Ward went down with an ankle injury, and it opened the door for Kyle Postma, who threw for 236 yards and a score in relief to grab the comeback win. The 35-34 victory was secured when Memphis missed a 48-yard field goal in the final 30 seconds.


Before addressing Houston’s place in the context of this season, something has to be said about UH head coach Tom Herman. As an assistant to Urban Meyer at Ohio State, he prepared J.T. Barrett and then Cardale Jones on short notice, helping them to become breakout players for the Buckeyes last season. Now, as a head coach at a program with far fewer resources than Ohio State, Herman has once again enabled a backup quarterback to thrive in a high-stakes situation. Herman’s identity as “The Quarterback Whisperer” has been affirmed, showing many in the coaching profession why Herman’s going to be offered a job at a high-profile program if he wants it.

Now, to the school Herman is leading with distinction:

For a team in need of truly earning its spot at the national table, the Cougars did just that. Before beating Memphis the Cougars had no real wins of note. Houston tried to hang its hat on beating an SEC school, but your local JV sqaud could probably beat Vanderbilt, too. The win at Cincinnati was a solid road win but nothing too big.

This, though — this was big. This was a win over a Memphis team that killed Mississippi’s playoff dreams. Memphis won at Bowling Green, one of the MAC’s best. Now Houston has beaten the Tigers.

Up next for the Cougars is a road game at Connecticut, and the weather in Hartford will be in the 40s, so don’t just peg that as an easy W. After that, they’ll get the triple option monster that is Navy, in a contest which will determine the AAC West Division championship.

Houston now has a clear target on its back. The last time the Cougars wore a bulls-eye, they folded when the lights shone brightest. The 2015 Cougars now must prove themselves as winners. A league title, and potential millions from being in a New Year’s bowl, are at stake.

Memphis now must look ahead towards a barren future with nothing but pride to play for. This loss ends any chance the Tigers have of making the AAC title game. Houston and Navy own the tiebreakers over Memphis which eliminates them going forward.

The one bright spot is Paxton Lynch, who has 3,014 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. With strong performances against Temple and SMU, Lynch might find himself in New York as a Heisman finalist.

That would be a nice feather in the cap for the program, but going forward everything is hollow. A fortnight ago Memphis had outside aspirations of sneaking into the Playoff. Now the Tigers haven’t even a chance of winning their conference title. It’s all come crashing down for Memphis in the last two days, and the Tigers need to worry about Justin Fuente getting scooped up by one of the many Power 5 programs with coaching vacancies.

It was thrills for Houston and agony for Memphis, but Saturday night gave us a classic game that will go down as one of the best in the young history of the American Athletic Conference.

About Mike Abelson

Mike Abelson is an editor for Comeback Media. He also works as a writer and broadcaster for numerous organizations throughout New England. You can follow his journey to see a basketball game at every New England college at throughthecurtain.blog.