When considering the Big 12 expansion decisions, repeat after me:
Houston’s victory over Oklahoma means nothing … Houston’s victory over Oklahoma means nothing … Houston’s victory over Oklahoma means nothing …
When considering the impact of Saturday’s game at NRG Stadium, repeat after me:
Houston’s victory over Oklahoma … was Trump-esque… as in HUUUUGGGE.
The Cougars, coming off a 13-1 season that included a New Year’s Six bowl victory over Florida State, put a stake in the ground for this season’s College Football Playoff by dominating the third-ranked Sooners, 33-23. Houston is ranked No. 15 and appears to be the undisputed class of the American Athletic Conference. In Year Three of the CFP, the committee could be forced to give serious consideration to a Group of Five school.
Oklahoma’s season-opening loss means that its chances of returning to the CFP now fit into the “long-shot” category. The Sooners are faced with going 11-0 the rest of the season. In two weeks, Ohio State visits Norman, and in four weeks OU will play at TCU.
Of course, Oklahoma going 11-1 will only mean the Sooners are Big 12 champions and “in contention.” They won’t have that coveted “13th data point” because of no Big 12 Championship Game (until 2017). If Houston finishes 13-0, it would be difficult for the CFP committee to slot OU ahead of the Cougars.
Houston’s two toughest games appear to be Sept. 15 against Cincinnati and home against Louisville on Nov. 17. Check your calendar. Both of those games are on Thursday nights and kray kray things tend to happen on Thursday night games.
While the rankings classify Saturday’s game as an “upset,” anyone who watched the game and didn’t know the rankings or the team names would have called the team wearing the red jerseys the better team.
“We knew coming in they were an excellent team and they played like it,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
The key play of Houston’s 20-0 run that wrested control combined an Oklahoma meltdown that resulted in a memorable touchdown.
Trailing 19-17 in the third quarter, the Sooners drove to the Houston 28. A timeout, a sack and two negative plays later, OU lined up to attempt a 53-yard field goal. The Sooners were short a blocker and had to burn a second timeout. Then, as he attempted to make a career-best, sophomore kicker Austin Siebert, started, stopped and then kicked.
That false start kick might have resulted in it coming up short. The Cougars then Au-burned Oklahoma as Brandon Wilson – whose heel was inches from the end line – took the kick back for an official 100-yard TD which was 110 in length. The Sooners reacted with “he can he do that?” coverage.
Houston’s nine-point lead — 26-17 — felt like 39.
“I thought I stepped out, but I didn’t,” Wilson said. “I just saw the green grass and I scored.”
Herman said that OU’s timeout before the field goal attempt allowed the Cougars to set up a return they practice about once a week. Wilson had a convoy of blockers.
“You know you have to cover it, but the personnel on the field isn’t the best cover guys because the best cover guys wouldn’t be able to protect the field goal. So you’re in a little bit of a dilemma,” Stoops said. “I thought (Siebert) could make it. I was wrong.”
One of OU’s concerns was replacing last season’s leadership on the offensive line and on defense. If leadership equates to making plays, those concerns are legitimate.
Junior outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, a first-year starter, made misplays that lead to 10 UH first-half points. His blown coverage led to a wide open Duke Catalon’s 15-yard TD catch. It’s bad enough when your fans assume the surrender cobra; worse when it’s one of your players. Okoronkwo also was called for a roughing the passer flag (on a screen pass, no less) that kept a Houston drive alive that led to the field goal at the end of the first half. The kick put the Cougars ahead for good.
The offensive line? Young and inexperienced. The Sooners, who were throwing on most every play in the fourth quarter, finished with 70 yards rushing. Joe Mixon had 32 of those on a touchdown run. OU quarterback Baker Mayfield was flushed like someone with a fever, often starting to scramble by the time he caught the shotgun snap. The Cougars had five sacks.
This is the second consecutive game that Oklahoma went to the locker room holding on with its fingernails and then lost its grip. In last year’s CFP semifinal in the Orange Bowl, the Sooners led Clemson 17-16 and were outscored 21-0 in the second half. Houston led 19-17 at halftime and outscored OU 14-0 before an oh-by-the-way TD accounted for the final score.
There will be considerable talk show discussion in the Sooner State about the coaching staff’s adjustment capability, but OU fans should be accustomed to such disappointment. The last four times the Sooners began the season in The Associated Press top five, they twice finished with three losses and twice finished unranked with five losses.
This season’s football futures of Oklahoma and Houston will be decided over the next 11 games. The future of Big 12 expansion – thumbs up or thumbs down – could be decided by mid-October. That will be a presidential/political decision. Scores like Saturday will not – repeat, will not – be part of the criteria.
Scores like Houston 33, Oklahoma 23 are what makes college football’s return a shot of adrenaline to the heart.