Boise's loss changed everything.
Before the Broncos' undefeated season went up in smoke, thanks to a poor kicking performance, for the second straight year, the Cougars were a team that happened to be undefeated, playing for a conference title. Sure, everyone knew that if Boise State were to lose, the possibility of a BCS berth was out there, but what were the chances of that?
Then, wide right. And Houston is in control of its own BCS destiny. Something I've heard members of the UH faithful call the most exciting, and also the scariest thing they've ever heard.
If you're new to the Cougar bandwagon, allow me to explain. If you're a Cougar die-hard who already knows what I'm about to say, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs.
The Cougars have traditionally struggled the most when expectations were the highest. It's been sarcastically referred to as "Coogin' it", as in, losing a game you have no business losing. Failing in the most spectacular fashion possible.
It's the 2009 Cougar football team, beating #5 Oklahoma State on the road, knocking off Texas Tech at home, and then losing to a UTEP team that ended up going 4-8. It's the 2006 team (Houston's last conference champ) fumbling away an upset bid of Miami, and then choking away a huge lead against Louisiana-Lafayette. It's the 1989 and 1990 Cougar teams suffering losses to Southwest Conference rivals despite arguably the most offensive talent ever stockpiled on one team.
It's not a phenomenon unique to the Cougar football team, either. The UH basketball team pulled the most visible example of "Coogin' it" in school history, not winning a national title despite a three-year run of Final Four appearances in the Phi Slama Jama days, lowlighted by the huge upset to North Carolina State in 1983. More recently, the 2008-09 team had enough talent for a potential at-large berth to the NCAA tournament, but the infamous Aubrey Coleman-Chase Budinger face-stepping incident sparked a come-from-ahead loss to Arizona, and a home loss to UTEP (who UH had already beaten in El Paso) with Coleman, UH's best player, suspended. The two losses killed UH's at-large chances.
Even the UH baseball team isn't exempt - the 2000 squad was the #5 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, knocked off rival Rice in the Regionals, but fell short of Omaha after a shocking Super Regional loss to San Jose State. Two years later, Houston had a chance to redeem itself, advancing to the Super Regionals against hated Texas-Austin. The Cougars took the first game in the best-of-three series, but lost the next two games by a combined score of 22-4.
Yes, every school has suffered upsets in every sport at some time. But consistently falling short on the biggest stage is something Houston has accomplished with stunning regularity - whether it's the football team never quite breaking through to a national championship appearance during its SWC days; the basketball team putting together one of the most recognizable brands in college sports, but never earning the elusive national championship; or even the baseball team finding creative ways to keep its Omaha drought (44 years and counting) alive.
That about brings us back to the present, where Houston's football team is on the brink of something unprecedented - a berth in a BCS bowl game. The season feels predestined when you stop and think about it. Case Keenum received a medical redshirt, the Cougars pulled out the miracle comeback against Louisiana Tech early in the year, Keenum is breaking NCAA career records by the week, and getting his name mentioned in Heisman conversations, College GameDay is being hosted by a C-USA school for the first time, and a TCU team that lost to SMU somehow went to the smurf turf and ended Boise State's 5,479 game home winning streak to clear Houston's path to the BCS. (I didn't look up the exact number, but I'm pretty sure that's it.)
I mean no disrespect to SMU, Tulsa or Southern Miss, all good football teams. In a normal year, there would be no shame in losing to any of them. But the next three games aren't about them. They're about Houston, the most talented team in the group, the team with the most prolific offensive player in college football history, the team of destiny. If the Cougars lose at some point in the next three weeks, they'll have Cooged It once again, in maybe the spectacular fashion yet.
But if Houston goes three and oh, not only will they have earned a BCS bowl bid, they'll have put an end to the phrase.
Now that's exciting. And also a little scary.