Cougar Aggre-blogging

A pretty busy weekend in extended Cougar sposts …

» Chron: Piland, defense suffer through season opener to forget
» Chron: UH changes offensive coordinators in reaction to Texas St. loss
Brutal day and a dizzying turn of events watching a coach hired after an extensive Google search by Coach Levine. Here’s hoping things turn around fast. For whatever team failings are going to reflect on Levine, the lack of returning starters is a bigger issue in my mind. I’m not sure how many of the kids we have lining up now are likely to be multi-year lettermen, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been at the start of a four-to-five year project with unproven talent in the first year. I’m waiting and I hope to be seeing. Soon.

» AZ Republic: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb knows there is time to make amends
Also brutal. I’ll be shocked if Kolb doesn’t get some starting time for the Cards at some point in the season. The O-line is just too iffy for the team to see them going through only one QB. What Kolb shows off the bench will likely determine how much of a career he has from this point on.

» Chron: Case Keenum clears waivers; signed to practice squad
» Detroit Free Press: Lions reportedly sign CB Drayton Florence; add Patrick Edwards, Ross Weaver to practice squad
Elsewhere, RB Michael Hayes ended up getting cut by the Chargers (Jackie Battle is still in their backfield, however) and LB Sammy Brown was a late cut by the St. Louis Rams. Of the four, I’d have probably picked Edwards to take his talents to the UFL or CFL to prove what he can do. Nice to see Detroit being smart enough to hold onto him. There’s some good history there with short receivers.

» Chron: Legendary UH athletic trainer Wilson dies at 85
Even our training staff at UH was legendary.

Big Day In Houston Football …

» Chron: Experienced Piland Gets QB Nod
I admit, I like the move. I assume it wasn’t for nothing that Piland beat out the one-time star prospect Terrance Broadway two seasons ago. And given the head start he had during his redshirt season, it sounds like he had as good of a mentoring as one can get. And just to add one bit of re-assurance, Piland becomes (possibly) the third consecutive four-year starter (sorta) for the Cougars. Now to find a way to get over my loathing of Piland’s alma mater, Southlake Carroll, for three seasons.

» Chron: Timing was right for UH to refresh identity with new look
Not exactly on-the-field matters here, but worth noting. I do like the updated UH logo since it strikes a happy balance between the skinny UH that I grew up with and went to school with and the more modern, telegenic, fat UH that we’ve had for several years now. As for the Penn State ripoff idea for Shasta, that’s far less welcome than the remote, live Shasta that we’ve added.

» Chron: New coach Shealy eager to put HBU football on field in 2013
» Chron: HBU plans to build 10,000-seat on-campus football stadium

I can’t say that I’m well-versed in the history of Houston Baptist’s new coach, Vic Shealy. But I’m happy as a clam to see things moving forward since the school is within walking distance from home. The talk of a few “exhibition-type” games next season does nothing to quell that enthusiasm.

Life in the Post-Keenum World

It’s a big football weekend. Apparently, my church will be broadcasting the Texans game before and after our 1pm service. I’ve gotta be there to see that. Otherwise, Tebow-mania resumes tonight. In the interim, there’s this interesting profile of the guy who has the inside track on being the starting QB for the Houston Cougars next season …

» Chron: Heir apparent: Catching up with David Piland

In the comments, there’s discussion over whether Lamar HS QB Bram Kohlhausen might compete for the starting gig. Frankly, I’m not sure how much of that is a bit of Houston-centric homerism. I certainly do hope that he’s a strong enough competitor for the starting job, but I haven’t given up on hopes that Drew Hollingshead might have a little to show as well. Bottom line, though, is that if Piland isn’t the starter next season, then its news. The loss of senior receivers is more of a concern for the time being.

One point to tack on to all of this is the growing trend of high schools using multiple QB. What makes this particularly interesting is that this is exactly the format that Piland came out of in Southlake Carroll. So it’s not like it would be a new experience for him.

Coogs Get an Offensive Coordinator

» Chron: UH names Mike Nesbitt offensive coordinator

Next year is definitely going to be a big wait & see effort for Cougar football …

New Houston head coach Tony Levine has made two new hires to his football staff on Wednesday, naming Mike Nesbitt as the Cougars new offensive coordinator and Jamie Christian as UH’s new special teams coordinator and inside receivers coach, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Nesbitt comes from Stephen F. Austin where he led the Lumberjacks to top-15 rankings in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Nesbitt’s offensive background is rooted in the same offense UH uses, the Air Raid. Prior to joining SFA in 2011, he spent four years at West Texas A&M coordinating its offense, averaging 529 yards per game in 2010.

Not a big, sexy hire like Holgerson was. But maybe one with potential. We’ll see. It’s definitely a different era at U of H, though. And things like this don’t help …

Also, former UH co-offensive coordinator and inside receivers coach Jason Phillips joined June Jones’ staff at SMU on Wednesday. Phillips, who played for UH in 1987-88 and was an All-American receiver, has spent the last four years on the UH staff and has spent nine total seasons as a UH assistant.

If we get off to a good start next year, Coach Levine will likely deserve a lot of credit. For now, though, there’s a lot of reason for crossing some fingers in the meantime.

Happy Football Gameday

Coogs kickoff at 11, so that’s where my attention will be.

Here’s ESPN’s preview. The Scranton paper notes that Penn State’s interim coach has had to contend with Ty Detmer and Tim Couch in previous bowl games. And looking beyond today’s bowl game, the Washington Times has a quick take on Case Keenum’s pro prospects:

But is this year’s resume enough to make Keenum a draft pick or at the very least get him on an NFL roster? Wes Bunting, the National Football Post’s director of college scouting, thinks so. He said that while Keenum doesn’t have the size and the arm strength to make all of the throws in the NFL, he has shown some improvement this year and as he gets older will get stronger and more precise. While it might not make him a starter, it should make him a quality backup.

“Is this a guy I’m going to trust to win football games for me in the NFL week in and week out? Absolutely not,” Bunting said. “But as a No. 2 or No. 3 guy early … When you watch around the NFL and Tyler Palko’s your backup, you can’t convince me that this guy doesn’t have a spot in the NFL. I think he could be that No. 3 guy early, he’ll develop into a No. 2. Kind of like what the Packers are trying to do with Graham Harrell. I think he can make a comfortable living in the NFL as a reserve-type quarterback.”

I think that’s about right. The two high-end comparisons that are out there for Case to take some confidence in are Drew Brees and Joe Montana (and yes, as a Montana-hater, it kills me to make this comparison). Both were undersized and lacked arm strength. Lacking some widespread acceptance of the bubble spread or Air Raid offenses in the NFL, Case will have to change his game a bit more to fit into most NFL schemes. He’s got a quick release and seems to be a decent reader of defenses, though. If those skills hold up at the next level, someone’s going to notice and give him a shot.

Coach Levine

Coach Levine goes from the interim head coach to the full-fledged real deal head coach for the Coogs. No complaints. It’s not a big, sexy hire like Briles or Sumlin were. But it makes a good deal of sense and Levine seems to have his fans in the football universe. A win on January 2nd sure would be a great start to it all.

UPDATE: Music to my ears via the press conference:

We’re going to continue to be the most exciting offense to watch in the country. … We’re going to be up-tempo. … We have a tremendous young nucleus coming back on offense next season and I don’t expect us to drop off offensively one bit.

The rationale for UH football all along has been that the best talent in the state generally has their choice of going to UT or A&M. Out of state schools can skim the highest-tier talent even more. For other schools in the state to have success, it usually involves running an offensive system outside of the mainstream. TCU, for what it’s worth, made their mark with an innovative defense under Gary Patterson. The pattern goes as far back as Bill Yeoman developing the Veer offense to UH in the 60s. Putting fans in the seats is all fine and well, but if it takes a retro move like going to the wishbone, I’d be fine with even that.

All in all, Coach Levine is certainly saying all the right things. It’d be incredible to see him have success and remain at UH significantly longer than the 3-year average he mentions. I’m just not convinced that anything approaching Yeoman-esque tenures are a reasonable expectation at mid-tier programs. So I’ll be happy if the program continues to progress during Levine’s time at UH.

First up after the bowl game is developing and/or deciding on a quarterback for 2012. Dave Piland didn’t strike me as half bad in his forced starting time last year. It probably says something that he beat out Terrance Broadway for the gig. Whether Crawford Jones, Bram Kohlhausen, Drew Hollingshead, or a new recruit (Austin Grammer of Tuscaloosa, AL is on the board) has what it takes to follow Kolb & Keenum is an insanely high expectation. Add in all of the senior receivers that will finish their college careers in the bowl game and things look a lot thinner at the skill positions. Obviously, I hope Levine is up to the challenge.

On Ranking Subjectively

» Chron: Cougars make strong case for best UH team ever

I seem to recall during my teenage years, that there was a certain hobby among those of us who owned (and sometimes practiced playing) an electric guitar of ranking the big-name guitar heroes of the day as a way of expressing our preferences. Yeah, so now the Chronicle does that with UH football teams …

There are cases for teams from the Bill Yeoman era – 1973, 1976 and 1979 in particular – the Jack Pardee and John Jenkins days of 1989 and 1990, and, if you really want to dial it back, the 1952 Cougars, who were an impressive bunch on defense.

But if the No. 7 Cougars (12-0, 8-0 Conference USA) are to win Saturday when they host No. 24 Southern Mississippi (10-2, 6-2) in the C-USA Championship Game at 11 a.m. at Robertson Stadium, they could make a strong case of their own. In many ways, they already have.

While I hope this doesn’t mean that I’ll regress to the point of practicing Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” for 12 hours a day, I’ll simply say that the 1976 team is pretty hard to top from my perspective. But I’m not worried about records, NFL draft picks, sentimental choices for favorite players. What I grew up knowing about that team was this: the year before, the Coogs went 2-8.

My parents made a habit of driving from Mississippi to Houston about 3-4 times a year to catch games. The next year, we won the Southwest Conference in our first year, beat Texas 30-0, won the Cotton Bowl against undefeated Maryland, and finished #4 in the nation. Again, the folks dragged us from Mississippi to Houston just as before. But this time, a couple of trips to Austin and Dallas were added. I watched the 1977 Cotton Bowl on a small black & white TV of the babysitter we were staying with at the time. It doesn’t get more hardcore than that. Somewhere in my parents’ house is the commemorative Dr Pepper bottle from the game. And Jerry Wizig’s book, “Eat ‘Em Up” ends with this moment in history.

All of this effectively stamped in my mind as a definitive moment of what it means to be a Cougar. Be as much of a fan during the lean times as you are in the good times. Everything else – Andre Ware winning a Heisman, David & Jimmy Klingler being the best passers the school ever saw, Kevin Kolb & Coach Art Briles (a member of the 1976 team) restoring a great deal of lost luster since the Klingler days – all of that adds to the foundation for me. But the foundation is the foundation.

I’m certain that there are older Cougars who might point toward the 50s and 60s teams that are worth consideration. That’s fine. For a lot of younger Cougars, Case Keenum’s certainly a great foundation for their perspective. But at the conclusion of the parlor game, the entire exercise is more about defining what the school’s team means to you or I. I just hope for the sake of kids today, that Dr Pepper makes another commemorative bottle.

What Case Means (continued)

… and Marcus McGraw … and Michael Hayes …

The slideshow of photos showing UH students camped out overnight for C-USA championship tickets and enduring a line that rivals registration back in the pre-internet days speak volumes. You never saw anything like this in the late 80s/early 90s. Even when we were winning. Even when the run & shoot offense was the most exciting thing to watch. I’m not sure how the Phi Slamma Jamma days that preceded my time on compus compare. But that may be the only decent comparison due to on-campus events. And even there, the seating was far more limited.

Bottom line: these kids are far likelier to go through the rest of their lives with a greater sense of attachment to the University of Houston than many of the students I shared a classroom with. For that alone, I’d cast a Heisman vote for Case Keenum if I could.

As Saturday stands, I’ll be glued to the teevee at 11am. I’m really hopeful that we put the game away early enough for me to head out to church at my normal time. Otherwise, I might be a little late.

Football Overload

All of the following will be going on or starting during what is supposed to be a very serene, contemplative, quiet time of trying to corral random media elements as part of the church AV squad. Its why this is the worst time of the world for me.

2:00pm – Euless Trinity (11-0) vs. Allen (11-0)
2:30pm – University of Houston (10-0) vs SMU (6-4)

and just for a little added emphasis, there’s this …

5:00pm – Dallas Skyline (11-0) vs. DeSoto (10-1)

I can’t not watch or pay attention to how at least the first two games are going during service. The 5pm game may not involve an alma mater. But, like the Trinity-Allen game, it may send the winner to State. And I’m planning the second annual pilgrimage to JerryWorld for some High School Championship games before Christmas. I hate to arrive in a stadium seat unprepared for what I’m about to see.

This will also be the initial test of some heavy-duty, emergency usage of my new Kindle Fire. So there’s that.

My gig at church usually starts around 3pm and service itself doesn’t get going until 5pm. I’ve been in this situation before and in no prior case, have important games such as these been something like 56-0 late into the game. If anything, I think the timing of all this is a strong indicator that something will go into overtime. Then again, my teams usually win when this scheduling conflict occurs.

What Case Means

Swamped. Busy. Yadda. Just read Richard Justice if you’re looking for something to read today …

I heard from a UH grad during the Rice game a couple of weeks ago. He texted to say that while sitting there in the rain he was struck by how far UH had come. He said there was a full house at Robertson Stadium that night. That kind of game, he said, would have drawn maybe 15,000 just a few years earlier.

The University of Houston was left to die when the Southwest Conference broke up, and UH very nearly did that. The Coogs were 28-51 in the first seven seasons in Conference USA. They were 0-11 in 2001. Crowds routinely dipped below 20,000 at Robertson Stadium. Students stopped going to games.

When Dave Maggard interviewed for the UH AD job, he took a walk around campus and would stop random students and ask: “How’s the football team doing? How about the basketball team? Do you go to games?”

He found out that almost no one seemed to care about sports at UH and realized if he took the job, he’d have huge work to do, not just in coaches, facilities, graduation rates, etc., but also to change the culture of losing. Everything began to change when he hired Art Briles in 2003. Three years later, UH won the C-USA Championship Game in a packed Robertson Stadium, and Briles and Maggard celebrated with a long, emotional hug in the locker room. They’d done what almost no one thought possible.

The pre-Maggard attendance woes were something a lot of us 90s-era Coogs saw ahead. Attendance at the Dome was dreadful when the team was losing (or not playing UT or A&M). There was no reason to believe that taking games to a commuter college campus in a stadium that had long since seen better days was anything more than a cost-saver. My first game at Robertson certainly didn’t leave me impressed with the move.

But I recall the CUSA Championship game of the Kevin Kolb era and even though it’s hard to conjure significance from it when you’re used to seeing meaningful SWC games, the atmosphere definitely changed by that time. When I see the games on TV or online these days and I see the excitement that students have and that Case Keenum generates, that’s what I mean when I say there’s no stat on his resume that I need to see to consider Keenum the best quarterback that the University of Houston has ever seen. Better than Kolb, Ware, either Klingler, and from the veer era: Elston, Davis, Burrus, Woodall. You name it – any sport, and era, any name – Case just stands a little taller.

To me, stats don’t determine that. A perfect season or lack thereof doesn’t determine that. The NFL’s evaluation of him as a professional athlete doesn’t determine that. It’s strictly what one individual means to the school as a whole. And the fact is that there’s a very real sense that Keenum has made a meaningful impact on not just the athletic program, but to the school as a whole. Since that happens to be a school I grew up loving and rooting for, and later attending and graduating from, that makes me really appreciate what Case has accomplished as a student-athlete, as well as what the others that David Justice gives credit to have accomplished in their roles. It’s a very different UH than from what I grew up with … and that’s a good thing.

I’m sure there will be slightly fewer tickets sold next season when I assume David Piland is leading the team instead of Case and the names on the back of his receivers’ jerseys will change from the talented crew we’re used to this season. But I know that whoever follows will be building on a lot of what Case Keenum built in his time here.

Whose State?

Here’s how the BCS rankings see things: UH is the best team in Texas.

 1. LSU             8-0
 2. Alabama         8-0
 3. Oklahoma State  8-0
 4. Stanford        8-0
 5. Boise State     7-0
 6. Oklahoma        7-1
 7. Arkansas        7-1
 8. Oregon          7-1
 9. South Carolina  7-1
10. Nebraska        7-1
11. Clemson         8-1
12. Virginia Tech   8-1
13. Houston         8-0
21. Texas           5-2

The AP poll has us 14th and UT at 26th. A&M and Texas Tech both fall out of the rankings after losses. If you’re old-school like me, the Jeff Sagarin rankings have UH at 23rd. I’m willing to go with a little modernity in light of that.

The Chron’s take on the rise in the polls can be read here. The story also mentions a nice honor for Case Keenum, winning the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week after breaking the career TD Pass record against Rice. A win next week gives UH its best start ever and Case should get the last part of the QB career trifecta by throwing for more passing yards than Timmy Chang of Hawai’i.

At this point, only an undefeated season qualifies as gratifying. The hard part remains with a pesky SMU and Tulsa still on the schedule. Southern Miss or East Carolina are likely C-USA Championship foes and we managed to deal with ECU to the tune of 56-3. So … bowl game? C-USA typically sends their champion to the Liberty Bowl. Boise State is likely to block us from any BCS bowl contention.

But whether we play in Memphis or truly jilt the C-USA in going to another bowl, I have one opponent in mind: Texas. I don’t care what the rankings are. I don’t care what the silly sponsor name of an otherwise proud bowl game is. I just want to see my Coogs beat them and settle any possible disagreement over who the best team in the state is.