If your Christmas went anything like mine, you didn't get everything you hoped for. (Concert tickets to the Avett Brothers notwithstanding.) In fact, if you are anything like me, most of the things you hope for can't be provided by friends and family members. Here at SB Nation Houston, we have a long wish list for the new year. Hopefully all of the administrators, coaches, athletes and fans involved will make the following New Years' resolutions to make next holiday season happier for everybody:
Cougars, Owls: Resolve to find some defense
I'm all for entertaining, high-scoring football. But at some point, never stopping the other guy gets old. Both Rice and UH have put up some startlingly good offensive efforts the last few years, only to see the team ultimately fall short of its goals due to poor defense. And 2010 was no different. The Cougars put together the occasional impressive defensive performance, but with no consistency. The team lost six of its last eight games, surrendering 34+ points in all but one of those losses. Rice didn't hold an opponent under 30 points until the last game of the year. In related news, neither team went bowling this year. If the story stays the same on the defensive side of the ball for these teams, neither will ever become anything more than a middling Conference USA squad.
NCAA: Resolve to grant Case Keenum's appeal
Keenum's request for a sixth year of eligibility seemed like a Hail Mary. Everyone knew he took a redshirt in 2006 solely because of the presence of entrenched starter Kevin Kolb. However, there have been rumblings as of late that Keenum actually suffered a serious collarbone injury in '06. While one might point out that Keenum would have likely redshirted regardless, Houston can point to former East Carolina quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing multiple seasons with injury behind a firmly entrenched starter.
Suddenly, Keenum's appeal looks like it has a pretty good shot of being granted. That would allow him to come back, lead the team, break the NCAA's all-time passing records, and allow David Piland, who started the last eight games of 2010 as a true freshman, to take a redshirt and develop further before being re-given the reins in 2012. Of course, you never know how the NCAA will rule, especially on cases involving non-blue blood institutions like Houston. But we have to admit, we've got our hopes up. Here's hoping the NCAA does the right thing.
Fans: Resolve to come back in 2011
Houston fans come to see the opponent, never just to support the home team. The Cougars will never consistently sell out their football games. That was the conventional wisdom heading into the 2010 season, and it was blown out of the water, as UH sold out Robertson Stadium for the first five games of the season.
However, the explosion in season ticket sales came in the midst of an off-season in which the team was being hyped up in the local and national media at unprecedented levels. Keenum was a Heisman contender, and the Cougars were BCS busters. Houston will have to repeat the feat this year in the wake of a 5-7 campaign, possibly without Keenum as the face of the program.
Wayne Graham: Resolve to stay healthy, and keep coaching
The Owl head baseball coach will turn 75 this season, and much like Joe Paterno at Penn State, has earned the right to coach the team as long as he wants. After taking over in 1992, Graham got Rice to the NCAA post-season in his fourth year at the helm, something the school had never accomplished before. He's got them to the post-season in each of the fifteen years since then, as well, never failing to win 40 games. He's peppered in seven College World Series appearances, and a 2003 national title for good measure. Oh, he helped the school get one of the best baseball facilities in the country built, too. Even as a Cougar fan, there's no denying that Graham's as good as they come, and we hope he coaches for another ten years.
2011 Cougar basketball recruiting class: Resolve to live up to the hype
James Dickey's first season at the helm of the Cougar basketball team has been characterized thus far by Houston playing about even with Southland Conference teams. With the graduation of Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis, it's not like we didn't see this coming. But it's still been a tough pill to swallow, coming of the excitement of the program's first NCAA tournament appearance in 18 years.
There are some talented youngsters on the team, like Kendrick Washington and Kirk Van Slyke, but when it comes to hope for the future, most of the Cougar faithful are looking to those not yet on campus. Joseph Young, after sitting out this season, will set foot on the court as the Coogs' biggest recruit in years. Joining him will be a recruiting class with a number of big-time offers to its name. One could imagine Young, forward TaShawn Thomas and point guard Jevante Thompson all starting right away. And the fans in Hofheinz Pavilion hope they'll get the home team back to the promised land - no 18-year wait required.
Both the Owl defensive end and Cougar running back were pre-season all-Conference USA first team selections in 2010, and both ended up missing the entire season, with a broken foot and academic ineligibility, respectively. Solomon, as of September, hasn't made a decision in regards to his future. He might choose to head to the pro ranks rather than return to school. It's hard to figure out how well an athlete will deal with spending an entire year outside of the game, but both Solomon and Sims would play huge roles for their teams in 2011 if they are back in 2009 shape.
Rice basketball: Resolve to punch the dance ticket in the next two years
While the tournament drought for the Owls' basketball team hasn't been as well-publicized as the recently-ended one for the Cougars - no doubt largely due to Houston's more impressive basketball history - it is the Owls who are now going on 40 years without an NCAA tournament berth. While it may seem to be asking a lot for the 6-6 Owls, coming off a one-win conference campaign, to make the big dance in the next two years, it's not outside of the realm of possibility. Five of the team's six losses have come by a combined 15 points, against the likes of Texas-Austin, Miami and Oral Roberts, and the team's two best players - dominant big Arsalan Kazemi and slashing guard Tamir Jackson - are just sophomores. Could they be the group that gets the Owls back to the tournament before leaving campus? It's entirely possible.
Todd Whitting: Resolve to create a two-headed baseball powerhouse in Houston
As previously mentioned, the Owls are one of the elite baseball programs in the country. The Cougars, after an impressive run at the beginning of the decade, have had to settle for little brother status, including two straight sub-.500 seasons. After shedding long-time coach Rayner Noble, Houston moved quickly to hire TCU assistant and noted recruiter Todd Whitting. The move got a lot of positive press, as many expect that Whitting could be the man to turn the Cougars into a powerhouse to match the one across town. Whitting is a UH alumnus, and placed getting hired as the head man at his alma mater behind the birth of his son, and above taking the Horned Frogs to Omaha on the list of biggest moments in his life, so it's easy to picture him sticking around for the long-term, like Graham, if he has that same kind of success. Imagine spending sunny afternoons in March at Reckling Park or Cougar Field, watching a pair of top-25 programs and crosstown rivals go at it. If that doesn't turn you into a college baseball fan, nothing will.
Todd Buchanan: Resolve to get UH to the tournament this year
The Houston women's basketball team has been looking forward to this season for a few seasons in a row now. The class of Jasmine Johnson, Brittany Mason, Brittney Scott and Courtney Taylor are now in their fourth year playing together, so it was expected that this year would be the year. The ladies were off to a great start, with an 8-2 record and victories over Nebraska and Louisville that has landed Houston in the "others receiving votes" category of the top 25 polls. However, they were embarrassed this week in a home loss to Georgetown, in which they only made one first half field goal. (Taylor, the team's best player, was injured and missed the game.)
Still, they enter the Conference USA schedule as one of the favorites. If coach Buchanan and the ladies can win the conference and punch their dance ticket, it will be a well-earned reward for a talented group.