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Houston Must Continue to Build off Its Hot Start

Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire

The hiring of Tom Herman by Houston was almost universally lauded, but he’s still somehow found a way to be better than just about anyone could’ve hope for at this point in the season.

The Cougars are off to a terrific 5-0 start to the year, quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. has been phenomenal and is starting to be considered a dark horse Heisman candidate, and they have returned to the national rankings for the first time four years.

Herman’s honeymoon period has been outstanding, but now is obviously not the time for the Cougars to start patting themselves on their backs. To ensure that it turns this hot start into something more, Houston must keep its foot on the gas pedal in its pursuit of an AAC title.

Herman has done wonders for the Houston offense so far (if you need further proof of just how great of an offensive mind he is, just take a look at Ohio State’s struggles on that side of the ball this year), and the biggest benefactor of his presence has clearly been Ward.

Ward currently ranks sixth in the country in total offense at 371 yards per game. He’s thrown for 1,302 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception on 72.5 percent passing, while also adding an additional 554 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Most people expected to see a stark improvement in Ward’s game under Herman’s tutelage given that dual-threat quarterbacks tend to thrive in his offense, but Ward has exceeded all expectations thus far.

The Cougars have actually found success on both sides of the ball, ranking eight in the FBS in rushing offense (287.4 yards per game) and ninth in the nation in rushing defense (95.8 yards per game). That’s the kind of balance head coaches dream of, and they’re going to need to keep it up down to stretch in order to maintain their spot in the polls, win the AAC title and potentially earn a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Houston hits the road for the next two weeks against Tulane and UCF, who are a combined 2-9 this season.

The Green Wave are 2-3 thus far, with wins over UCF and Maine, and blowout losses at the hands of Duke, Georgia Tech and Temple. Tulane will be the more formidable challenge of the Cougars’ next two opponents, but this is still a very winnable game for them.

Houston then moves on to Orlando to take on the Knights, who are off to a horrendous 0-6 start. A loss to UCF would, quite frankly, be a bit of an embarrassment.

After a home game against Vanderbilt the following week, the Cougars dive into the toughest portion of their conference schedule, which could really make or break their season.

Houston will face Cincinnati, Memphis and Navy in three of its final four games, each of whom are formidable foes. Cincinnati is off to a 0-2 start in conference play, but is definitely not an opponent to be overlooked. Meanwhile, Memphis and Navy will be the Cougars top threats in the AAC West, so defeating them is obviously imperative for Herman and Co.

Houston is off to a tremendous start under Tom Herman, but its work is far from over. The AAC West is a meat grinder this year, so the Cougars are going to have to keep up this pace the rest of the way if they want to turn this season into something truly special.

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