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Harvard on the Border

September 9, 2013 Politics-2013 No Comments

» Wash. Monthly: Higher Education’s New Caste System

Over the years, I’ve grown to just ignore one of my favorite magazines as they put out their college ranking issue. But as dumb luck would have it, I’m apparently now in the business of following, tracking, and reading as much news as possible about education. So the start of the semester produced its usual bounty of new content and I still have to force myself to read through some articles that have otherwise outlived any purpose post-collegiate me.

Then this caught my eye …

Diana Natalicio, the President of the University of Texas at El Paso (which the Washington Monthly ranks #7, right ahead of Harvard) said that she and her colleagues had to change the culture at UTEP. She said that in the early ‘90s, her colleagues at UTEP looked at their minority and low-income student body as “a liability,” rather than an asset. Since then, Natalicio has worked closely with the K-12 system in El Paso, all but eliminating remedial education at the college level. “Data was essential in transforming our institution,” said Natalicio who asserts that facts, rather than biases and assumptions drive their new decisions.

First cavaet is to avoid the bait of determining whether UTEP is really a better school than Harvard. Lists are for starting arguments, nothing else. And since Don Haskins is no longer among us, I think we all know which of the two institutions we would rather send a kid to learn stuff real good.

No, what got my attention out of this was the idea that UTEP has “all but eliminated” remedial education at the college level. While I think it goes without saying that UTEP has done an impressive job in dealing with a challenging situation, the irony remains that there exists some easy data to show that UTEP has not “all but eliminated” remedial coursework. Here’s a 2012 report, covering the Fall 2011 cohort of incoming students. Page two of the report will highlight that of the 30% of the first-time student population that did not meet state standards in math, reading, or writing, just more than half of them opted to take developmental coursework. Similarly, there were 343 students who did meet the math standard, yet opted for the same (this tracks with data at other campuses, as well).

That’s not quite on par with the Tier One universities in the state and it’s still a peg or two below the “Near Ones,” as well. But it’s some impressive progress at UTEP, nonetheless (feel free to compare numbers against their Fall 2003 showings).

There are still several hurdles to clear, as a March NYT/TxTrib article covers. And what makes UTEP admirable is that they have leadership that emphasizes the importance of keeping the front door of college as open as possible at a time when the fine folks at the Lege want to tie more dollars to degree completion. UTEP’s approach contrasts a bit with the method that my alma mater has chosen to move up the ladder to bigger and better things.

Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. But it still strikes me as a shame if we end up with more of a caste system college structure as a result.

Cougar Aggre-blogging

September 4, 2012 College, Pro No Comments

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 …

April 11, 2012 College No Comments

» 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.


February 23, 2012 College No Comments

A note from the Coogs’ loss on the baseball field Tuesday night …

With the potential game-tying run standing on third base (Taylor White) and one out in the bottom of the ninth and the Cougars’ No. 3 hitter at the plate (Casey Grayson) and UH in need of a run, the Cougars twice attempted a safety squeeze. Grayson tried to bunt twice but was unsuccessful and eventually popped up to the shortstop. Jacob Lueneberg made solid contact with two outs on a ball to right field but it landed right in the glove of Kyle Danford for the final out.

When asked about the thought process of trying the squeeze with Grayson, Whitting said that’s his philosophy for that situation.

“Like I told the team after the game, I’ll bunt Albert Pujols. I don’t care,” Whitting said. “We work on that play a lot. The percentages are in our favor. The percentages on a safety squeeze are way in your favor as opposed to swinging the bat. We’re going to get that bunt down as a team 70-80 percent of the time and we’re going to get a hit a third of the time. You’ve got to be committed to the play and execute it. I’d rather walk out of the inning 3-3 than 3-2 and going home.”

Among the adjustments on my part from strictly watching MLB on the tube, but the difference in quality of play was a given. But now I’m curious to know if many other college teams are likely to bunt in these situations as well. My first Sunday game definitely saw a bit of this. As an above-average bunter back in my day, I’m suddenly intrigued.

Cougar Baseball Off to a Perfect Start

February 20, 2012 College No Comments

Pardon the indulgence, but the first effort at breaking in a new habit for the sports calendar has proven successful. Sunday’s day in the park with the UH Cougars and Delaware Blue Hens was perfect in every way. Weather – good. Coogs – won. Game – never dull.

While this year’s team isn’t necessarily the most stellar that we’ve had on paper at the beginning of a season, there were some definite highlights to take in on Sunday:

- Freshman Pitcher Aaron Garza, a Galveston Ball product, was pretty amazing to watch for 6 solid innings. That came after walking his first batter on four consecutive pitches. I wasn’t sure what I’d get to see considering Garza is the #3 pitcher on the staff. But if he handles batters anywhere near as well as he did on the lowly Blue Hens of Delaware, he could be a good one to watch in the years ahead.

- Price Jacobs, another Houston-area freshman, who hit his first home run on Sunday. He also had an incredible series, hitting .818 for the weekend. To be playing as a freshman in the first place, I assume there’s going to be more great games ahead for him.

- I also got to field-test a new way to keep a baseball scorecard with my Kindle. It’s still a bit of a learning curve for how to keep that sucker handy while still enjoying the game. I did find myself with my nose buried to the grindstone of figuring out some things for the first time with the app. Among the sort of things that I normally like to do, but couldn’t with play-by-play action to capture is noticing different ways that the middle infield responds to batters, batting stances, or how good the second basemen are in the field. Instead, I’m punching strikes and balls on my Kindle.

But it produced very useful charts, stats and scorecards. I’m going to try and go back to do the first two games with this app. There’s hope that I can follow along with it a full season, but I don’t know if I want to make that commitment just yet. But its definitely the most fun I’ve had since trying to keep track of some unique sabermetrics on the Astros back in the 90s (and without a subscription to stats.com). I’m hoping it gets easier to manage the device and soak in the rest of the game, but no complaints outta me when the weather’s beautiful.

For what it’s worth, here is Price Jacobs’ hitting chart for the full game on Sunday and half of the second game that I had logged the day before. It’s pretty suggestive that future outfields might want to overplay him to the left a bit …

Next week is some serious blogger-on-blogger rivalry as the Coogs take on Stace‘s evil Texas State Bobcats (currently ranked #40 in the nation). Last check of the RSVP list had Perry also joining us. Anyone else planning to make it, feel free to do so. To give credit where its due, Houston City Council Member James Rodriguez was spotted yesterday in full Cougar regalia and with family on tow.

The weekend after the War on Bobcats gets off to an early start with the Minute Maid Classic. I’m hoping to take in all three Cougar games for that series. Both weekends should be a bit more telling about what this team can do against better competition.

Pre-Weekend Cache Clearance

February 17, 2012 College, Politics-2012 No Comments

A minor gaggle of updates and recommended reading for things slipping past my ability to find time to blog about them …

» Cougar baseball season begins today. I’m not expecting great things from them this season, but I am committing myself to the occasional Sunday afternoon game just to find some excuse to get back around campus and enjoy a little school spirit. First up, the Blue Hens of Delaware. I really want to see mascots there. Next week, Stace and I fight it out via our alma maters: that’d be Texas State for Dos Centavos.
I believe we may be joined by other bloggers, as well.

» Slate: Obama’s White Whale
Good reading for dataheads.

» TechPresident: How Low Can You Go? Why the $3 E-mail Ask is Working
Good reading for techheads.

» Christianity Today: The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really
Good reading for do-gooders.

» Note to self: get me a hound dog sometime in the foreseeable future. Also note to self: ignore Westminster preferences for best of breed.

Play Ball

January 29, 2012 College No Comments

» Chron: Cougar baseball begins new journey

For the five people or so who might be interested in Cougar baseball …

A total of 14 Cougars return from that 27-32 squad that finished tied for fourth in C-USA (12-12) and they’re joined by a whopping 20 newcomers that look to add significant depth that wasn’t seen a season ago.

For starters, the Cougars will at least begin with a full deck of pitchers in tow. A year ago at this time, the Cougars were starting practice with just nine healthy pitchers that were expected to contribute. On Friday, they had 16 arms suited up for practice led by the pair of senior righthanders, Jared Ray and Mo Wiley and junior lefthander Jordan Lewis.

Ray, who missed most of last season while recovering from a third arm surgery but joined the rotation in time to contribute late in the regular season and the postseason, said he’s 100 percent and feels no ill effects from his multiple times under the knife. Wiley is coming off a productive season of his own in which he started 12 games, went 4-4 with a 4.63 ERA in 70 innings. Lewis threw a team-high 81 2/3 innings and was 5-3 with a 3.75 ERA (both team highs) and became a consistent Saturday starter for the Cougars last season.

I don’t know whether it qualifies as a New Years resolution or merely serves as the after-affect of a fairly successful football season pushing my Cougar Pride buttons. But I’m planning on taking in some Sunday afternoon games this season, in addition to the Minute Maid Classic. Hopefully, the new scorecard app for the Kindle works out and I’ll be able to test this hypothesis from Moneyball …

Baseball is theater. But it could not be artful unless its performances could be properly understood. The meaning of these performances depended on the clarity of the statistics that measure them; bad fielding statistics were like a fog hanging over the stage. That raised an obvious question: why would the people in charge allow professional baseball to be distorted so obviously? The answer was equally obvious: they believed they could judge a player’s performance simply by watching it. In this, James argued, they were deeply mistaken.

That was James’s most general point, buried beneath his outrage about fielding statistics: the naked eye was an inadequate tool for learning what you needed to know to evaluate baseball players and baseball games:

Think about it. One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks. It might be that a reporter, seeing every game that the team plays, could sense that difference over the course of the year if no records were kept, but I doubt it. Certainly the average fan, seeing perhaps a tenth of the team’s games, could never gauge two performances that accurately – in fact if you see both 15 games a year, there is a 40% change that the .275 hitter will have more hits than the .300 hitter in the games that you see. The difference between a good hitter and an average hitter is simply not visible – it is a matter of record.

But the hitter is the center of attention. We notice what he does, bend over the scorecard with his name in mind. If he hits a smash down the third base line and the third baseman makes a diving stop and throws the runner out, then we notice and applaud the third baseman. But until the smash is hit, who is watching the third baseman? If he anticipates, if he adjusts for the hitter and moves over just two steps, then the same smash is a routine backand stop – and nobody applauds ….

As an all-glove/sub-zero bat second baseman in little league, I tended to focus on second basemen for this very reason. Fans of my generation cooed over Ozzie Smith’s heroics at shortstop, but the point was made in certain circles that a truly great shortstop would be one that doesn’t require a high frequency of acrobatic plays. That spoke to me since I was more of a Joe Morgan/Lou Whitaker fan on the other side of the middle infield. Morgan was more of a routine view since the Astros were on TV more often. But Whitaker had better perks for his gig …

Compare and contrast, if you will, with Joe Morgan’s pop culture moment …

Coogs get going on Friday the 17th. I’ll be there for the Sunday game … trying to forget the memory of Pete Rose singing commercial jingles.

Life in the Post-Keenum World

January 14, 2012 Politics-2012 No Comments

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

January 11, 2012 College No Comments

» 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.

Elvis Has Left the Building

January 2, 2012 College No Comments

For the record: Cougars > Nittany Lions. To the tune of 30 to 14. Case’s last game would have him finish as the 5th best passing yardage performance in a bowl game and a record for bowl games played in the Cotton Bowl (a point of old-school SWC pride, if you will).

Happy Football Gameday

January 2, 2012 College No Comments

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

December 22, 2011 College No Comments

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

December 1, 2011 College 1 Comment

» 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)

November 29, 2011 College No Comments

… 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

November 17, 2011 College, High School No Comments

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

November 11, 2011 College No Comments

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.

Coogs Move Up to #11

November 6, 2011 College No Comments

Eat ‘em up

The Cougars (9-0, 5-0 Conference USA), who are coming off a 56-13 win at UAB on Saturday, moved up to No. 11 in all the major national rankings that were released on Sunday.

UH is No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, the USA Today coaches poll and the latest Bowl Championship Series rankings.

The Cougars’ AP poll ranking is their highest since September 1991, when they ranked 10th nationally. They’re off to their best start in school history, edging the 8-0 starts by the 1990 and 1979 UH squads. UH is also off to its best C-USA start since joining the league in 1996.

The complete BCS rankings are here. One sidenote that I think it worth pointing out: of the computerized rankings, only one has #10 Virginia Tech ranked higher than Houston. In fact, the biggest thing keeping Virginia Tech above us is that the USA Today poll has Va. Tech ranked higher than Clemson, which defeated Va. Tech earlier in the season. Silly humans.

And in case you missed it, Case Keenum is now, officially, the most prolific passer in NCAA football history:

Believe it or not, there are some challenging games on the schedule for the Coogs. Next week is Tulane. This shouldn’t normally qualify as “challenging.” But while Tulane may be only 2-8, they hold one distinction of importance: they’re the only other C-USA team to finish a season undefeated. Will they play the role of the 1984-85 Miami Dolphins who improbably (and respectively) defeated the 49ers and Bears to prevent what would have otherwise been a perfect season? I’m clearly hoping they don’t have it in them, but this is the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night.

SMU (6-3/4-2) is up after that and they’re generally a tough opponent regardless of their record. Oh, and the guy who Case beat out for two of those three records is the QB that SMU’s coach mentored at Hawai’i. I don’t put it past June Jones to be capable of a little payback. Given my respect for Jones as a coahc, I think this is the toughest game left in the regular season.

Tulsa (6-3/5-0), however, is the regular season closer for the Coogs. And, like the Coogs, they have an undefeated conference record. If that holds (and it should), then an upset by Tulsa would end the Coogs hopes for a Conference title. Bottom line: everyone’s a potential spoiler these days.

And that Conference title is looking like it will be against the only other ranked C-USA team: Southern Miss (8-1/4-1). Those guys are ranked #22 in the BCS rankings. If the Coogs get to this game undefeated, the game will be played at the Rob on Dec. 3. Coincidentally enough, the last time the Coogs won the CUSA title, it was Southern Miss that they beat for the crown in 2006.

Technically, the Coogs are in the realm of at least theoretical possiblity for a BCS bowl bid. Here’s the operating set of rules:

1. The top two teams in the final BCS Standings shall play in the National Championship Game.

2. The champions of the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Southeastern conferences will have automatic berths in one of the participating bowls through the 2013 regular season.

3. The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or,
B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

No more than one such team from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference shall earn an automatic berth in any year. (Note: a second team may be eligible for at-large eligibility as noted below.) If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth, and the remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria.

Assuming the best case scenario (no pun intended) of an undefeated season and CUSA Championship, a little more help is needed. Here’s a bit of the scenario for what it would be needed:

1. Boise State (#5) has to lose. This is the biggest holdup of them all for UH. Yes, there’s a theoretical loophole that would allow both UH & Boise State to play in BCS Bowl games. I think it involves the ACC totally imploding and someone like Florida State or Virginia winning the championship game. But I don’t see it happening. Next week is the biggest opportunities for a Broncos loss, with a game against TCU. That’s not the same Andy Dalton-led TCU, but it’s still a pretty good team with an innovative coach who knows how to shut down a good offense. I may have to find some purple to wear next weekend.

2. Alabama and Arkansas could stand to lose another game. I’m not sure that I see that happening with Alabama. But hope springs eternal when you’re 9-0. Arkansas ends the regular season with LSU and not a lot of chance of getting to the conference championship game since they’re in the same division as LSU. The Tide end the season with Auburn and that’s about the best scenario for them to lose another game. The net effect of the non-LSU SEC teams is that I see something of a chance to move up one spot, with Arkansas losing to LSU. Any bigger surprise will be most welcome with me.

3. Next week’s Stanford/Oregon game. This one has a few conflicts for me. I generally like Oregon’s style of play and in any other set of circumstances, I’d be rooting for them in this one. But the Ducks need to lose for the best chance of the Coogs moving up. Yes, I can see the scenario of Oregon beating Stanford, thereby ending Stanford’s perfect record, combined with Oregon losing to USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and either or both of Stanford and Oregon losing their bowl games. All of this would also help bump Case’s too-distant Heisman hopes up a skosh. But I’m betting on practicality here. So … Go Cardinal! Two losses for Oregon, even if they are to teams that are likely to finish in the Top 4, could be enough to move the Ducks below Houston in the rankings. There’s a chance it could happen, so I’ll take it.

4. The Oklahoma/Oklahoma State dilemma. I suppose the typical preference might be to cross the fingers for the undefeated OSU to lose a game. But since that loss is likeliest against OU, that doesn’t help the Coogs. Hoping for OU to drop a few points seems difficult to imagine, but they do have a tendency to lose a game entirely out of the blue every now and then. Baylor is up for OU next week and the intra-state rivalry wraps up the regular season. It could also be interesting to see how the lack of a Big 12 Conference Championship game helps or hurts either team this season. There’s a possibility of UH to gain some ground if OU hits a wall of some sort. Not sure that I’d bet heavily on it, though.

5. Clemson & Virginia Tech just need to lose. Each has ample opportunity to lose to a quality opponent in the remaining schedule. And the conference championship game. Given their proximity just ahead of Houston in the rankings, a loss by each would be a big boost. Moving up a spot or two over either team doesn’t entirely qualify as daydreaming.

So, with all of that, I think there’s a fair shot of 3 or 4 spots that the Coogs could move up. If some part of that involves a loss by Boise State in the regular season, that finishes the Coogs at #7 and #8 and headed to a BCS bowl. But first things first … Coogs just gots to win.

Whose State?

October 31, 2011 College 4 Comments

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.

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