Tom Herman is not on the hot seat; he’s on the hot list. He opens his second season as the coach at the University of Houston with one of Saturday’s lava-hot games.
Third-ranked Oklahoma will take on the 15th-ranked Cougars at noon Eastern Saturday in the Advocare Classic at NRG Stadium. It could be another step in Herman’s “H-Town Takeover” campaign, but Herman also knows he has to temper the outside noise and excitement.
“We approach the preparation to this game like we did last year playing Tennessee Tech,” Herman said. “We don’t let of the outside chatter, noise, any of that stuff infiltrate our culture. All of that chatter, at the end of the day, that’s all it is.
“We don’t train for games. We train for chaos.”
After going 13-1 last season and beating Florida State in the Peach Bowl, Houston has generated expectations for an undefeated 2016 campaign that would merit serious consideration from the College Football Playoff Committee.
Then, just over a month ago, the Big 12 Conference announced it was considering expanding its membership. UH, desperate to shed its “Cougar High” reputation, is a viable candidate.
Training for chaos hardly prepares the Cougars for the cacophony of chatter. Consider:
- The Houston board of regents recently approved construction of an indoor football practice facility. Construction on the $20 million project will begin after the season and will be ready before the 2017 season. The indoor facility will be 80,000 square feet and include a 120-yard synthetic field and football-only sports performance area.
- The news recently emerged that earlier this year, UH president Renu Khator had met Red McCombs, a San Antonio billionaire and one of the top boosters at the University of Texas. Khator emailed and met with McCombs to curry his favor in Houston’s bid to become a Big 12 member. In June, McCombs said, “”UH belongs in the Big 12.”
- Hofheinz Pavilion, home to Phi Slama Jama during the glory days of UH basketball, is undergoing a $60 million renovation. UH board of regents chairman Tilman Fertitta, a former UH student, board of regents chair, and sole owner, chairman and CEO of Fertitta Entertainment, Inc., donated $20 million to the project. The updated facility is set to debut for the 2018-’19 season. The name of the arena will change to the – ta da – Fertitta Center.
- At the news conference to announce his donation to the basketball facility, Feritta said the school hopes to find out its Big 12 fate in the next two to three months. “They have a timeline,” he said. “We think in the next 60-90 days it will all be over and hopefully the University of Houston will be in the Big 12. I think there is a whole lot of support out there. I just don’t see how you can’t say Houston when it’s all over with.”
- Houston mayor Sylvester Turner has little doubt that the Cougars will roll the Sooners in the opener: “We’ll win that one easily then move on. In this first game, I think we’ll win by 14 or possibly 21 points. Then, we’ll look for some stiffer competition.”
The mayor apparently isn’t familiar with the term “bulletin board material.”
“There’s an excitement unlike anything I’ve seen,” Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek said. “That’s part of the buzz going on right now for sure. Our goal for awhile now has been to put ourselves in the best position possible to compete at the highest level.
“Potential door opening, potential opportunity to do that, you kind of feel a level of energy around our entire campus, anticipation tied to the game, tied to the talk of Big 12 expansion. Just a phenomenal level of energy on our campus.”
The outcome of a football game wouldn’t appear to be the impetus to change the future of a conference and a school. However, if the Cougars knock off the Sooners, Houston will no doubt be a trending topic on Twitter.
Herman, who was the offensive coordinator for Ohio State’s 2014 national championship team before making his head coaching debut, is much more concerned about maintaining the level of play that produced last year’s record. In the spring, the Cougars received t-shirts with a giant question mark.
“We harped on them forever about keep hammering at the curve in the question mark,” Herman said. “I didn’t say massaging the curve. I didn’t say talking really nice to the curve. I didn’t say going really lightly on the curve.
“If you keep hammering the curve and that line straightens out, what does it become? It becomes an exclamation mark.”