Why do University of Houston football fans get so defensive? They seem downright paranoid sometimes. What's with that?
Speaking as a UH alum and longtime Cougar fan myself, I'll tell you. It is because no matter how many positive accomplishments the UH football team and its players deliver on the field, they are ignored by most and ridiculed or dismissed as inconsequential by those few who mention them. Fans of other teams should not, of course, be expected to heap praise on the UH Cougars (although it would be nice if they would refrain from outright lying). What is truly disturbing is the disingenuous and ultimately baseless and indefensible verbiage that is generated by the great majority of "experts": sportswriters and announcers from local, state, and national media, who are paid handsomely for delivering enlightened professional opinions but clearly forgo any sort of meaningful analysis of any but the same wearisome few perennially favored teams and quickly dismiss any UH accomplishments with pat, formulaic arguments.
Am I biased? I'll "admit" that I'm a fan with a Cougar heart. But I also have eyes, ears, and a brain, so I've read, heard, and processed what the "experts" have said. I also have advanced training in statistics, and I have a mathematics degree, so I'm prepared to back up any rah-rah feelings with raw, raw data and I'm prepared to defend the relevance and significance of those numbers, examining them with a depth and breadth that are sufficient to refute the familiar superficial arguments of those who dismiss them.
Enough prologue. Here are some of the facts and numbers, mostly relating to the 2011 football season, presented along with some of the very familiar arguments that have been made to dismiss their significance.
Fact: The Houston Cougars finished the 2011 season 13–1. They were ranked #18 in the final AP poll. UH's record tied them with only one other FBS team, #2 LSU, for the best record in the nation. Three other teams each had only a single loss: #1 Alabama, #3 Oklahoma State, and #8 Boise State, which were all 12–1. Seven 2-loss teams and six 3-loss teams were ranked ahead of UH in the final AP poll.
Familiar dismissive argument: You know why you weren't ranked higher, don't you, UH? Because you played in a weak, weak conference, Conference USA. Your wins mean nothing. And you didn't even win the championship of your own weak, weak conference. Alabama and LSU played in a man's conference, the Southeast Conference, which has an automatic BCS bid! And Boise State, well, OK, they weren't in a BCS automatic-qualifying conference, but remember five years earlier when they beat Oklahoma in a bowl game??! And their quarterback won more games as a starter in his college career than anyone in history even your guy, who played for six years!!
Fact: Quarterback Case Keenum finished his UH career as the all-time NCAA Div. I-A/FBS career statistical leader in total offense, passing yards, completions, passing touchdowns, touchdowns responsible for (passing + rushing), 300-yard games, and 5000-yard seasons. He was given little consideration for the Heisman Trophy and subsequently was not selected by any team in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Familiar dismissive argument: This is too easy! First of all, your guy got six years (or wait was it seven?) to rack up all those meaningless video-game numbers. And your guy is what we experts call a "system quarterback." Your team does nothing but pass, pass, pass, 90% of the time. And you do it against these weak, weak Conference USA teams. You leave him in there to finish meaningless games so he can pad his meaningless stats. Well, NFL scouts are no dummies. They know what Keenum's numbers mean: nothing. Did you hear how he did at the NFL Combine? He showed below-average arm strength. And he's short. Short quarterbacks are useless in the NFL. And all he knows is the shotgun he's probably never heard of playing from under center. And oh yeah what about all the other "great" quarterbacks who came out of UH's system? Where's your Andre Ware, and your David Klingler, and your Kevin Kolb? And what about other guys who came out of these silly air-circus schools? Like, does anybody remember Timmy Chang? LOL!
Familiar dismissive summation: You guys think you're so good. Well, prove it! You've never beaten any real teams. You've never even played any real teams. And you're scared to because you know darn well what would happen. If your Keenan, or Kemon, or whatever the heck his name is, ever faced a real defense, he'd learn a few lessons that is if he ever regained consciousness after getting his face buried in the turf 20 yards behind the line on the first play! Ha ha!
OK, doubters and haters. Now it's my turn.
Let's look first at that 2011 season that saw 13–1 UH ranked #18 while the only other 13-win team was ranked #2 and the only other one-loss teams were ranked #1, #2, #3, and #8. . . .
The comment was repeatedly made that no one knows how UH would have fared against real competition, since they played in the supposedly weak Conference USA. But UH did play two teams from major conferences (conferences whose champions received automatic BCS bowl bids) in 2011, and they defeated both: UCLA from the Pac-12, which UH beat 38–34, and Penn State from the Big Ten, which UH beat 30–14 in the TicketCity Bowl. Both of those teams had success within their own conferences: UCLA was champion of the Pac-12 South Division, while Penn State was co-champion of the Big Ten Leaders Division and was ranked throughout almost the entire season, including when UH faced them.
UH played seven games against bowl-bound teams in the 2011 season. In mounting a 6–1 record in those games, they scored an average of 40.1 points, with an average margin of +13.9.
The following data make what I believe is an even stronger argument: below is a listing of each of the 17 teams that were ranked higher than UH in the 2011 final AP poll. UH did not play against any of these teams in 2011 but did have at least one common opponent with 11 of them, and had two common opponents with two of them. Here are the scores comparing UH's performances against common opponents with higher-ranked teams in 2011:
#1 Alabama defeated Penn State 27–11, defeated North Texas 41–0
UH defeated Penn State 30–14, defeated North Texas 48–23
#2 LSU none
#3 Oklahoma State defeated Tulsa 59–33
UH defeated Tulsa 48–16
#4 Oregon none
#5 Arkansas none
#6 USC defeated UCLA 50–0
UH defeated UCLA 38–34
#7 Stanford defeated UCLA 45–19
UH defeated UCLA 38–34
#8 Boise State defeated Tulsa 41–21
UH defeated Tulsa 48–16
#9 South Carolina defeated East Carolina 56–37
UH defeated East Carolina 56–3
#10 Wisconsin defeated Penn State 45–7
UH defeated Penn State 30–14
#11 Michigan State none
#12 Michigan none
#13 Baylor defeated Rice 56–31
UH defeated Rice 73–34
#14 TCU lost to SMU 40–33, defeated Louisiana Tech 31–24
UH defeated SMU 37–7, defeated Louisiana Tech 35–34
#15 Kansas State none
#16 Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 47–14
UH defeated Tulsa 48–16
#17 West Virginia defeated Marshall 34–13
UH defeated Marshall 63–28
Here's what it looks like to me, comparing each UH performance to each higher-ranked team's (skipping the teams that had no common opponents with UH):
(1) Alabama: pretty much a wash. UH scored more points against each, but Bama's shutout of UNT might give the Tide a slight advantage overall.
(3) Oklahoma State: OSU +26; UH +32. Advantage UH.
(6) USC: OK definitely advantage USC here (though UH did at least win their game).
(7) Stanford: advantage Stanford (though UH did at least win their game).
(8) Boise State: UH scored more points and allowed fewer. Definitely advantage UH.
(9) South Carolina: really huge advantage UH.
(10) Wisconsin: advantage Wisconsin (though UH did at least win their game).
(13) Baylor: big advantage UH.
(14) TCU: huge advantage UH. TCU lost to a team that UH defeated by 30! (Give TCU small props for beating the other common opponent by a few more points than UH did.)
(16) Oklahoma: a wash, though UH did score one more point!
(17) West Virginia: big advantage UH.
I would like to point out (and probably will do so again in similar cases) that the list above is complete: I didn't pick and choose results to put UH in the best light. That's why USC, Stanford, and Wisconsin are shown. I have nothing to hide. So I'll admit it: UH didn't do better than all the higher-ranked teams against common opponents. But they did do better (and usually much better) than most of the higher-ranked teams against common opponents. And in no case did UH lose to a team that a higher-ranked team defeated.
I will now face the music. . . .
UH lost a game in 2011!!
How pathetic! How can UH hold up its head?! How can they expect any sane person to take them seriously?! And here's the worst of it: they lost to a team in that awful Conference USA!
OK. Let me point out for the umpteenth time that no team in the country went undefeated. Every team ranked ahead of UH had either one, two, or three losses, and still got taken seriously, more seriously than UH. So it must have been UH's schedule, and it must have been that the team UH lost to was really bad.
Nope. UH, being in a conference, played a conference schedule(!). That's what's required of any team in any conference. In the regular season, they went undefeated (8–0) in conference play. Of all the 17 higher-ranked teams, here are the ones that went undefeated in their regular-season conference play:
Yep. That's it. But Conference USA is supposed to be easy, so UH better not have just won but dominated their opponents! OK. . .
UH beat their regular-season C-USA opponents by:
7, 53, 35, 39, 43, 56, 30, and 32.
But there's that C-USA Championship Game. UH lost to a C-USA team. This proves conclusively that UH was a bad team, right?
Well, here's a possibility nobody seems to want to consider: the team, Southern Miss, that beat UH was a really good team!
Oh, great. Now I'm so desperate to show UH was good that in order to make my argument I have to go into contortions and try to get people to believe there were two(?!) good teams in C-USA!
Well, Southern Miss finished the 2011 season 12–2. Their only losses were on the road, by 6 points and by 3 points. They were champions of their division. They were ranked throughout almost all of the second half of the season, including a final #20 ranking following their bowl-game victory. They defeated the only major-conference team on their schedule (Virginia, who finished their own season with winning records in both conference and overall play) and Southern Miss did end up beating UH, then a top-10 team, the only ranked team they faced, making Southern Miss conference champions. Sounds pretty good to me. Maybe their fans should feel disrespected! (One might even ask: if Southern Miss and UH were from the same conference and thus faced similar competition, and USM won by 21 when the two went head-to-head, why shouldn't USM be ranked ahead of UH? Well, that one is easy. The main reason: UH lost one game overall; USM two. You could, though, also throw in the fact that the two teams USM did lose to, by 6 and by 3, were teams that UH also faced and defeated by margins of, respectively, 35 and 43!)
For the most part, I'm trying to avoid making excuses for UH (and a team that went 13–1 shouldn't need many anyway!). But they did lose that one game to a team that on that day, anyway played better. If I'm going to resort to using an excuse, even just this one time, it had better be a good one. Well, it came out after UH's loss to Southern Miss that Houston's head coach, Kevin Sumlin, had been out of town for several days just prior to the game and had left it to his assistants to prepare the team. What was Sumlin doing? He was interviewing for another job. This turned out to be no idle rumor: two days after the game, Sumlin accepted the head coaching position at Texas A&M. He left Houston immediately, not even staying for UH's bowl game.
While I'm at it, just how pitiful is Conference USA, really? For years, the familiar rap on C-USA as a whole has been its perennial abject failure during bowl season, when it has a chance to show how it performs in comparison to other conferences. This argument might have had some merit in previous seasons. But let's look at the scores of the five 2011-season bowl games in which C-USA teams (shown in bold) participated:
Marshall 20, Florida International 10
Southern Miss 24, Nevada 17
BYU 24, Tulsa 21
Houston 30, Penn State 14
SMU 28, Pitt 6.
So: Tulsa, which lost by 3 on a come-from-behind score by BYU with 11 seconds remaining, was the only C-USA team to lose a bowl game. C-USA's 2011 bowl record was 4–1 (average scoring margin +10.4); their bowl record against teams from major (BCS AQ) conferences was 2–0 (average margin +19); and their bowl record against ranked teams was 1–0 (margin +16).
Let's look in a little more detail at UH's TicketCity Bowl victory over Penn State. Predictably, in the days leading up to the matchup, the experts repeated over and over that "Houston has never seen a defense like this." Translation: the eye-popping offensive numbers UH had compiled to that point were meaningless. Not only was Penn State a Big Ten team with a Big Ten defense: their defense was ranked in the top ten in the nation (for fewest yards allowed), and in particular the Nittany Lions were ranked #4 in the country in passing defense. And, most importantly, they had achieved these rankings in the process of playing real teams: a full season against tough, powerful Big Ten offenses! UH, the experts said, was totally reliant, completely dependent, on its passing game. So when this Big Ten juggernaut of a defense showed the poor little C-USA offense from UH how the big boys play, they'd shut it down. The pregame rhetoric was almost as strong with claims that Penn State's great rushing game, operating behind its huge and athletic offensive line, would run through the famously porous UH defense at will with no resistance. The kids from Houston were going to be in for a long, frustrating, humiliating afternoon. . . .
So what happened? Did the big Penn State men teach the little Houston boys a lesson, thwarting the Coogies' puny efforts from the first play? Nooooo. Well, then perhaps UH bravely and gallantly played their little hearts out and actually managed a couple of completions and maybe even a first down(!) before the superior Big Ten thoroughbreds crushed them. Nooooo. Well (this sounds impossible), maybe UH miraculously stood up to the mighty Lions and matched them blow-for-blow for a while before ultimately giving way!! Um, no.
Here's what happened: the Houston Cougar offense toyed all day long with Penn State's vaunted pass defense. In the first quarter alone, Houston quarterback Case Keenum passed for 227 yards (no misprint), which set an NCAA Div. I-A/FBS record for the most passing yards by any team in any quarter of any bowl game, ever. UH led 17–0 after the first quarter. Thereafter, the Cougars coasted to a 30–14 win. For the game, Keenum passed for 532 yards and 3 touchdowns, with no interceptions. . . against a team, Penn State, that, having faced powerful Big Ten offenses all year, had yielded an average of 162 yards passing per game, the fourth fewest of any team in the country.
Well, of course UH got their long-sought-after recognition and acknowledgement of greatness after their dismantling of Penn State. The ESPN game recap burst out of the gate with a flurry of superlatives for the great Houston Cougars' performance!!!!! To wit:
"DALLAS -- Pacing the Penn State sideline just the way his dad did for 46 seasons, Jay Paterno couldn't help but wonder what JoePa might be doing back home in Happy Valley.
"A 30-14 loss to Houston at the TicketCity Bowl on Monday ended a tumultuous season for a program shrouded with uncertainty following the firing of a Hall of Fame coach in the aftermath of a child sex-abuse scandal that shook college sports.
"'It wasn't easy. ... It wasn't easy on game day without him because you think about him,' said Jay Paterno, Penn State's quarterbacks coach. 'I always came to work knowing we had an ace up our sleeve in Joe because of all of his experience, so yeah it was tough.'
"For the players, too.
"'We've been to hell and back in a lot of ways, more so for our kids,' Paterno said. 'They did nothing.'
"The 24th-ranked Nittany Lions were picked apart by Case Keenum and the 20th-ranked Cougars. . . . "
Wait. Hold it. This is all about Penn State. Houston hardly gets mentioned. When it does, it wasn't a "Houston win"; rather it was a "loss to Houston." In paragraph 6, when UH is finally mentioned for the second time, "the . . . Nittany Lions were picked apart by . . . the. . . Cougars." Passive voice to keep "The Nittany Lions" as the subject of that sentence, and by maintaining that style ultimately of the article as a whole. That must have been from the Penn State student newspaper. No? From the State College town paper? No. Maybe the Big Ten conference's website? Again, no. No, that's ESPN, the national network and sports-reporting service.
I want to make it clear that the ESPN story quoted here was the primary game recap, not some companion human-interest piece. The story was accessible via a link on the "ESPN College Football Scoreboard" page that gave the linescores for all 35 bowl games played by FBS teams at the end of the 2011 season. Under each linescore was a clickable link to the recap for that game. Looking at the wording ESPN chose for those 35 links called to my mind the Sesame Street song:
"One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the others? . . ." (Hint: it's in bold print.) Here are the 35 headlines:
"Temple blasts Wyoming to win New Mexico Bowl"
"Ohio rallies past Utah St. in Potato Bowl stunner"
"Baer's 50-yard FG lifts La.-Lafayette vs. SDSU"
"Cato picks up Marshall in Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl"
"TCU fights off pesky La. Tech in Poinsettia Bowl"
"Boise St. rolls to easy bowl win vs. Arizona St."
"No. 21 S. Miss wins Hawaii Bowl in Fedora finale"
"Missouri runs by UNC to win Independence Bowl"
"Purdue survives W. Michigan in wild Pizza Bowl"
"Glennon's 3 TDs spur NC State to Belk Bowl win"
"Blown 2-point conversion gives Toledo bowl win"
"QB Ash catches TD as Texas takes Holiday Bowl"
"Florida St. rallies in 2nd half to beat Notre Dame"
"Alamo Bowl: Griffin powers high-scoring Baylor"
"BYU's TD on final drive wins Armed Forces Bowl"
"Rutgers fights off Iowa St. to win Pinstripe Bowl"
"Ballard runs Mississippi State past Wake Forest"
"Bell, Sooners hold off Hawkeyes in Insight Bowl"
"A&M survives late NU rally for Meineke bowl win"
"Utah rallies from down 14, wins Sun Bowl in OT"
"Illinois halts skid with Fight Hunger Bowl victory"
"Kickoff return TD sparks Cincinnati past Vandy"
"Auburn's offense rips Virginia in Chick-fil-A Bowl"
"Penn State's trying season ends with bowl loss"
"Special teams key Florida's win over Ohio State"
"Michigan St. outlasts UGA in 3OTs at Outback"
"Shaw tosses 2 TDs as Gamecocks rout Huskers"
"Oregon gashes Wisconsin in record-setting Rose"
"Okla. St. nips Luck, Stanford in OT Fiesta thriller"
"Sugar sweet: Michigan ekes past Va. Tech in OT"
"W. Virginia explodes for 70 in Orange Bowl rout"
"Adams, Arkansas defeat K-State in Cotton Bowl"
"SMU routs Pitt to capture BBVA Compass Bowl"
"Moore, N. Illinois cruise in GoDaddy.com Bowl"
"Bama suffocates LSU to claim BCS national title"
If you guessed the onethe only onethat did not mention the winning team, then you're absolutely. . . right! And what was the name of that one winner out of 35 whose existence wasn't important enough for ESPN to acknowledge? That's right, boys and girls: it's the Houston Cougars! (On the other hand, why should anyone expect a national network such as ESPN to pay any attention to UH when even local Houston readers are daily exhorted to "Visit Click2Houston.com for the latest . . . sports news and scores for the Houston Texans, Rockets, Astros, Dynamo, Texas A&M, Texas Longhorns and more from NBC TV's local affiliate in Houston, Texas, KPRC - Houston's Channel 2."? Maybe "Click2Houston in Houston - Houston's Channel 2" just forgot about the two FBS football programs [one of them named "Houston"] within the city limits of Houston.)
Anyway, Penn State had four players chosen in the 2012 NFL Draft. UH had zero.
Just prior to UH's 2011 regular-season C-USA matchup with Tulsa, a sports talk show I watched on the Fox Southwest Sports network aired a discussion between two professional sports analysts, neither affiliated with either school but allegedly unbiased experts from the network. One asked the other (the wording is as I remember it perhaps not verbatim but very close): "So two questions: One, can the Tulsa Golden Hurricane beat the Houston Cougars? and two, does Houston's quarterback, Case Keenum, deserve to be in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy?" Expert number two didn't hesitate for a second. With an ear-to-ear knowing grin (of a sort very familiar to Cougar fans), he gleefully replied: "Not only can Tulsa beat Houston, they will beat Houston. As for Keenum, sure, you can put him in the Heisman conversation: after all, you need some kind of recognition for a guy who's played in college for ten years!!!" (Howls of laughter ensued.)
So how did that game turn out? Houston 48, Tulsa 16.
And then there's SMU. I remember reading a sports column in the days preceding the 2011 UH–SMU game in which the writer mentioned that betting on SMU to beat UH was the "chic" pick among sports media insiders. Why was that? SMU, competing in the same division of the same conference as UH, came into the game with a 6–4 record (average scoring margin +4.1); UH was then 10–0 (average scoring margin +31.9). SMU was 5–2 in conference play (average scoring margin +6.7); UH, meanwhile, was 6–0 in conference (average scoring margin +38.8). UH had won each of the previous five annual meetings over SMU:
2006: Houston 37, SMU 27
2007: Houston 38, SMU 28
2008: Houston 44, SMU 38
2009: Houston 38, SMU 15
2010: Houston 45, SMU 20,
defeating the Ponies by more than a three-touchdown margin in each of the last two games. Did the experts, in their chicness, know something that ordinary mortals were too stupid to see?
Evidently not. . . .
2011: Houston 37, SMU 7.
But the experts got the last laugh, as usual. After one SMU player had been chosen in the 2011 NFL Draft, four Mustangs were picked in 2012. How many UH players were drafted in 2011 and 2012? Respectively: zero and zero.
Harking back to 2009 for a moment, there is a perfect example of how ESPN's level of disrespect for UH has been consistent over the years. Their so-called "Houston–Oklahoma St. Preview" hardly mentioned UH, then concluded, in a sidebar:
"The [Oklahoma State] Cowboys begin the cupcake portion of their schedule with a home contest against Houston, followed by Rice and Grambling State. Oklahoma State's biggest challenge will be not playing down to the level of its opponents."
UH must have been a truly pathetic team that day in Stillwater, because #5 Oklahoma State played down to a score of:
Houston 45, Oklahoma State 35.
But you can't fool the experts: they still ranked Oklahoma State higher than the undefeated Cougars in all the polls the following week. That's right: in the next AP poll, Oklahoma State's 1–1 record, which included a double-digit loss at home to an unranked team, earned them a #16 ranking; while UH's 2–0 record, which included a double-digit win on the road over the #5 team in the nation, was good for #21.
Why was TCU ranked ahead of UH in the final 2011-season poll? At that time, both were in "mid-major" (non-BCS-AQ) conferences. TCU had two losses overall; UH had one. Both of TCU's losses were to unranked teams (one of which UH beat by 30); UH's sole loss was to a ranked team. TCU faced only one ranked team all season; they did beat them, but it was by only one point. UH faced two ranked teams, and though they faltered against one of them (in their only loss of the season) they beat the other by 16. TCU played only one game against a team from a major conference, and lost; UH played two (as explained above, both of those teams were division champions or co-champions in their own major conferences) and won both, by a double-digit-average margin.
TCU had two players chosen in the 2012 NFL Draft. UH had zero.
. . . [Update, 2016] . . . Following its historic 2015 season, the UH football team was finally granted a measure of the respect that had been withheld from it in some previous seasons (e.g., 2011): the final AP poll ranked the 13–1 Houston Cougars #8. To ask for more, to suggest a higher ranking, would probably seem greedy and ungrateful. However, one distinction was denied UH: bragging rights as the top team in Texas. The experts bestowed that title on the TCU Horned Frogs, which finished 2015 ranked #7 in the AP poll. Football fans and media around the nation couldn't stop gushing over TCU's gutsy performance in the Alamo Bowl, in which the Horned Frogs rallied from a 31–0 deficit at halftime to prevail over the Oregon Ducks in three overtimes, 47–41. Why not just praise such a display of brilliance and greatness, and admit the experts were right in proclaiming the Frogs' superiority to the UH Cougars and TCU's supremacy among Texas teams in 2015? Because. . . . . .
TCU was 11–2 overall, with an average scoring margin of +14.8 . . . UH was 13–1 overall, with an average scoring margin of +19.7.
TCU was 10–2 vs. FBS opponents, with an average scoring margin of +10.8 . . . UH was 12–1 vs. FBS opponents, with an average scoring margin of +19.1.
TCU was 9–2 vs. opponents from Power 5 conferences, with an average scoring margin of +10.1 . . . UH was 3–0 vs. opponents from Power 5 conferences, with an average scoring margin of +17.0.
TCU was 2–2 vs. ranked (AP top-25) opponents, with an average scoring margin of –2.0 . . . UH was 4–0 vs. ranked (AP top-25) opponents, with an average scoring margin of +11.8.
TCU was 2–2 vs. ranked (AP top-25) opponents from Power 5 conferences, with an average scoring margin of –2.0 . . . UH was 1–0 vs. ranked (AP top-25) opponents from Power 5 conferences, with a scoring margin of +14.
TCU was 1–1 vs. AP top-10 opponents, with an average scoring margin of +3.0 . . . UH was 1–0 vs. AP top-10 opponents, with a scoring margin of +14.
TCU was 1–0 vs. SMU, their only common opponent with UH, with a scoring margin of +19 . . . UH was 1–0 vs. SMU, their only common opponent with TCU, with a scoring margin of +21.
TCU was 5–0 vs. teams from the state of Texas, with an average scoring margin of +27.0 . . . UH was 2–0 vs. teams from the state of Texas, with an average scoring margin of +33.0.
TCU was 4–0 vs. FBS teams from the state of Texas, with an average scoring margin of +18.0 . . . UH was 2–0 vs. FBS teams from the state of Texas, with an average scoring margin of +33.0.
Finally, and perhaps most pointedly:
In a 2nd-tier bowl, TCU, after falling behind by 31, needed three overtimes to defeat a lower-ranked (#15) team by 6 points. . . In a New Year's Six bowl, UH never trailed as they easily and soundly defeated a higher-ranked (#9) and highly-favored team by 14.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . That's why.
West Virginia ranked ahead of UH in the final 2011 poll? This is a real head-scratcher. WVU lost three games! Two of those were to teams that were never ranked at any point during the season, and one of those losses was by 26 points! After briefly dropping out of the rankings, West Virginia vaulted back in on the strength of a 1-point win over Pittsburgh, an unranked team that UH's C-USA "rival" SMU would later beat by 22 (shortly after SMU fell to UH by 30). And as a reminder: UH and West Virginia had one common opponent in 2011: Marshall, which WVU beat by 21, and UH beat by 35.
West Virginia had three players chosen in the 2012 NFL Draft. UH had zero.
. . . [Update, 2016] . . . UH finished the 2015 season 13–1, ranked #8 in the AP poll after going 4–0 against ranked teams, including a beatdown of then #9 Florida State in the Peach Bowl, a New Year's Six bowl game. . . . But eight months later, our friends at ESPN were sticking to their well-established guns with a particularly hateful column by Ted Miller, ESPN staff writer, on the eve of UH's 2016-season-opening game vs. Oklahoma. Entitled "Houston has no chance," and starting with the oh-so-original line "Houston, we have a problem," Mr. Miller goes on to favor us with his wisdom and dazzle with his insight:
"College Football Playoff selection committee, we won't have a Houston problem. . . . One thing that won't be up for debate will be the Group of 5's inclusion, because its only member with a legitimate shot at a playoff berth is going to lose by double-digits to No. 3 Oklahoma. . . . Advanced metrics ranked Oklahoma No. 3. Houston is ranked 46th. . . . Houston's claim as a barrier-breaking playoff contender . . . is dispelled by a deeper look at advanced metrics."
So how did that game turn out?
Houston 33, Oklahoma 23.
Evidently the Cougars didn't look deeply enough at advanced metrics.
(And two weeks later, as I write this, the Oklahoma Sooners are 1–2, with both losses by double digits [10 and 22 points]. Their only win is over Louisiana-Monroe, a Sun Belt Conference team with a losing record. And Oklahoma is still ranked in the AP Poll! No, of course there's not a double standard. . . .)
I could go on with this for a while. You get the point.
Much was made of the fact that UH couldn't even win their own conference in 2011. UH did at least win their division (after being the only C-USA team to go undefeated in regular-season play) and played in their conference championship game. The following teams that finished the 2011 season ranked higher than UH also did not win their own conferences:
#1 Alabama (finished second in their division; did not even qualify to play in conference championship game)
#5 Arkansas (finished third in their division; did not qualify to play in conference championship game)
#6 USC (ineligible for conference championship: on probation)
#7 Stanford (finished second in their division; did not qualify to play in conference championship game)
#8 Boise State (finished second in conference standings)
#9 South Carolina (finished second in their division; did not qualify to play in conference championship game)
#11 Michigan State (lost conference championship game)
#12 Michigan (finished second in their division; did not qualify to play in conference championship game)
#13 Baylor (finished tied for third in conference standings)
#15 Kansas State (finished second in conference standings)
#16 Oklahoma (finished tied for third in conference standings)
A point that needs to be emphasized here regarding those teams that did not qualify to play in their conference championship games is that in so doing they were spared the possibility of losing that game. #1 Alabama, #5 Arkansas, #7 Stanford, #9 South Carolina, and #12 Michigan were in conferences that held conference championship games, but none of them needed to worry about losing that game because based on their regular-season records, none of them was good enough to be eligible to play in it! #6 USC was in a conference that held a conference championship game, but it didn't need to worry about losing that game because it was on probation, banned from postseason play due to massive rules violations on the part of its athletics programs. #8 Boise State, #13 Baylor, #15 Kansas State, and #16 Oklahoma, being in conferences that did not play championship games, were not exposed to the possibility of losing such a game, and the fact that none of them had the best record in their respective conferences suggests they may very well have lost had there been a conference championship game for them to play in. The Houston Cougars, on the other hand, had an 8–0 regular season and thus were good enough to qualify for the C-USA Championship Game; unfortunately for them, their "reward" was that they happened to lose it, spoiling what might well have been a perfect season.
I very frequently read scoffing remarks that the Houston Cougars are afraid to schedule games against big-name teams. That is sheer and utter nonsense, on multiple levels. UH relishes any and every opportunity to line up against a traditional powerhouse program. As is documented throughout this essay, the Cougars more often than not have come out on top in such battles when they have occurred in recent seasons and even if UH were to lose a game to one of those fabled programs, the general response would be "So what? That was supposed to happen." But when the Cougars go onto the field and vanquish a Penn State or a UCLA or a Mississippi State or a Texas Tech or an Oklahoma State, those schools are embarrassed to have been shown up by some little pretender of a program from Conference USA. So who should be afraid? UH has much to gain and little to lose by playing against big-name programs, and Cougar fans heartily welcome every such chance.