September 12th, 2009. It's been that long since the Houston Cougars were an out-and-out underdog heading into a football game. You may recognize that as the date of the game in which UH scored its first win over a top 5 program in 25 years, as the Coogs knocked off Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
Sure, lots of people expected Texas Tech to bring Houston back down to earth two weeks later. But it was the Cougars who were ranked, and at home, not the Red Raiders. And it was the Cougars who earned the one-point victory. For the rest of the year, there was an aura around the team that, if the Cougars brought their A-game, they would always win. Unfortunately, those things didn't always happen. But the mindset always seemed to be that Houston were the favorites.
Heading into the 2010 season, the Cougars were mentioned by many college football experts as possible BCS busters. The Cougar fan base expected little less. Houston steamrolled Texas State and UTEP. Then came the apocalyptic trip to Pasadena that left Case Keenum's ACL and Houston's BCS hopes beyond repair.
The Cougars rolled Tulane, then faced off with Mississippi State. We can still win at the Rob, a fan base told itself, right? Nope. We can beat Rice, because they're Rice, right? Evidently not.
And so, heading into this weekend's match-up with SMU, there isn't a legitimate reason to expect the Cougars to come away with a victory. SMU looks better coached than Houston at present, and appears to have more talent on offense and defense. The Mustangs also have a 3-0 record in Conference USA play.
One thing is certain - if Houston plays the way it has been, they don't have a chance. I don't want to say that the Cougars haven't been putting out a full effort lately, but some of the recent quotes really tell the story.
Junior running back Bryce Beall put it this way:
We've got some attitude adjustments we've got to make. We've got too many people just talking, not playing right now.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin chimed in:
Certainly, we should have been ready to play. If we're not ready to play, then that falls on me.
One would hope that in the third year of a coaching staff that promised (and early on, delivered) better discipline than the previous regime, questions of effort wouldn't be an issue. Clearly, there are still improvements to make. But in spite of Sumlin's willingness to take the blame, at some point, a coaching staff can only do so much.
We're going to find out a lot about the guys wearing the uniforms on Saturday. If the players aren't flying out of the gates in Dallas, that's 100% on the players. If you aren't blowing steam out of your ears after losing your program-record home winning streak and losing to your biggest rival in consecutive weeks, with first place in the division on the line, you probably shouldn't be playing competitive sports.
I'm not saying that it's time to fire the coaching staff and start cutting scholarships if we don't beat SMU this weekend. But if the Coogs don't come out with a chip on their shoulders on Saturday, the school's notoriously fickle fan base might start staying home again. And I won't even be able to blame them.