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Sunday Takeaways: Houston, we have a playoff-worthy team

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Sunday Takeaways explores the memorable moments, oddities, trivia and trends from college football’s weekend.

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At its best, college football is made for debate. Although this season’s conversation has barely cleared its throat, we were already presented with a contentious year-long narrative by mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Do the Houston Cougars deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff?

I say … yes!

Absolutely.

Now, week after week, all eyes will be on Houston.

After Saturday’s riveting, fun-to-watch 33-23 upset of the Oklahoma Sooners, the Cougars must take care of future business, of course. Now they are charged with running the table, winning the American Athletic Conference championship, and finishing 13-0.

If Houston accomplishes that, put the Coogs in the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl national semifinals. Give them a shot at reaching Tampa’s title game.

It is too early — fantastically early, actually — to know how this year will play out, but if it’s a typical season, we will have no more than two unbeaten seasons among the 128 schools playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The debate likely will come down to this: Does an unbeaten Houston team get selected over a one-loss team from a Power Five conference? That’s where the conversation will get very, very loud (we’re looking at you, SEC fans).

On paper, Houston’s AAC schedule might not look very imposing — Cincinnati, Connecticut, Navy, Tulsa, SMU, UCF, Tulane and Memphis — and non-conference foes Lamar and Texas State will not impress anyone.

However, there’s a Nov. 17 matchup against an upper-level ACC team, Louisville. With games against good teams from the Big 12 (Oklahoma) and the ACC (Louisville), Houston has certainly made a good-faith effort toward building a competitive schedule.

Who knows? The AAC Championship Game could be a battle of unbeaten teams. Houston’s opponent might be the University of South Florida Bulls, who likely will be favored to win each of their games but one. Florida State visits USF on Sept. 24, a tall task but an achievable one for a program with a giant-killing past.

What we talked about all offseason has actually happened.

Houston had the springboard. It took advantage.

Now the Cougars are squarely in the national championship conversation.

I give major credit to Oklahoma for scheduling the game, which was played at Houston’s NRG Stadium, the city’s NFL facility that hardly represented a “neutral-site’’ environment. Don’t count the Sooners out of anything yet, either. There’s still an entire Big 12 schedule to play — along with a non-conference mega-game against Ohio State — with lots of OU offensive talent in play.

One-loss teams can certainly reach the playoff. Many years, there will be two or three of them in the field. Honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked if a two-loss team sneaks in there, given the right circumstances.
Houston is not a program with that kind of margin of error. That’s simply life in the Group of Five. Lose one game and … you’re out.

The Cougars must also now immediately become the world’s biggest Oklahoma fans. They want — and need — the Sooners to run the table and win the Big 12. That will only add credence to Houston’s victory.

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My other Takeaways:

TOP TEAM: Houston. Period.

TOP PLAY: Brandon Wilson’s 100-yard return of Oklahoma’s missed field goal put Houston in control. Only a hundred yards? Wilson actually caught the miss in the back of the end zone, so he covered 109 yards of real estate, but strangely, the statistics will only give him credit for 100 yards. In any event, it brought back memories of Auburn’s Kick-Six to win the 2013 Iron Bowl.

LOW FIVE: With No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 5 LSU falling (against Wisconsin), it marked the first time since 1972 that a pair of top-five ranked teams were beaten on the opening weekend.

MAC-TION: After Western Michigan’s defeat of Northwestern, it was the 11th straight year in which a Mid-American Conference team beat a Big Ten opponent.

SEC-OND TO MANY: Six SEC teams were defeated, the first time that happened in an opening weekend since 1995. The worst misery might be affixed to Kentucky, which blew a 25-point lead and gave up 34 straight points against Southern Miss, which prevailed 44-35.

It wasn’t all bad.

Georgia held off North Carolina 33-24, giving Coach Kirby Smart a successful debut.

Texas A&M won a riveting 31-24 overtime decision against UCLA.

And of course, there was top-ranked Alabama, which pulverized USC, 52-6, and may have found its quarterback (not that we had any doubt). Crimson Tide freshman Jalen Hurts accounted for four touchdowns.

03 SEP 2016: Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Gehrig Dieter (11) catches a touchdown during the game between the USC Trojans and the Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Alabama beats USC 52-6. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)

03 SEP 2016: Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Gehrig Dieter (11) catches a touchdown during the game between the USC Trojans and the Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Alabama beats USC 52-6. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)

BEST SIDELINE: As though USC isn’t hurting enough, remember when all the stars congregated on the Trojan sideline? Looks like Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan program is the place to be now. The Wolverines peppered Hawaii 63-3 with Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter looking on.

BEST COMEBACK: Georgia RB Nick Chubb, whose 2015 season was cut short by a gruesome knee injury, seems like he’s all the way back. He scampered for 222 yards and two touchdowns — including a put-away 55-yard score — against North Carolina.

SPEAKING OF COMEBACKS: There was former Florida coach Steve Spurrier — who won the 1966 Heisman Trophy, then coached the program to six SEC championships and a national title — returning to Gainesville for the naming of “Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.’’ The Head Ball Coach, who is back as the program’s “ambassador,’’ was the game’s honorary “Mr. Two-Bits.’’ He performed the time-honored tradition of whipping the Gator crowd into a pregame lather. The only thing missing was a Spurrier-like scoring frenzy. Florida had to work in its 24-7 win against UMass.

BIGGEST EMBARRASSMENT: When Kansas registered a 55-6 win against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Rhode Island — ending a 15-game losing streak for the program’s first victory since 2014 — its fans stormed the field. Really? As the Kansas public-address announcer helpfully reminded the fans, “This is a new era in Kansas football, an era in which you should expect to win.’’ Classic.

TOP INSPIRATIONAL MOMENTS: Even beyond the wild and wacky, college football always gives us those special moments.

* Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who beat cancer in the offseason, scored a touchdown and rushed for 53 yards against Villanova.

* Nebraska honored punter Sam Foltz, who was killed in an offseason car accident, by lining up on a fourth-down snap with 10 players (and no punter) against Fresno State.

* Navy pulled a quarterback out of the stands to play against Fordham. After starter Tago Smith went down with an injury, freshman Malcolm Perry, in the stands wearing his uniform whites, was summoned to the field. Perry, who didn’t dress because he missed three practices due to an illness, got into his “other’’ uniform for mop-up duty, when he rushed for 32 yards in his first five carries.

Sunday Takeaways: Houston, we have a playoff-worthy team

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