With kickoff is exactly six months from today, the University of Houston has released its fall 2007 football schedule:
Sat Sep 01: @ Oregon
Sat Sep 08: open
Sat Sep 15: @ Tulane
Sat Sep 22: Colorado State
Sat Sep 29: East Carolina
Sat Oct 06: @ Alabama
Sat Oct 13: Rice
Sat Oct 20: @ Alabama - Birmingham
Sat Oct 27: @ Texas - El Paso
Sun Nov 04: Southern Methodist
Sat Nov 10: @ Tulsa
Sat Nov 17: Marshall
Sat Nov 24: Texas Southern
This is not a very favorable schedule. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it generally sucks. First of all, the Cougars, in spite of coming off a ten-win, conference-championship season, are losing a lot of senior talent that made last season's success possible and are likely looking at a period of rebuilding in 2007. Given that stiuation, tough road trips to both Oregon and Alabama are not exactly the types of games the Cougars need to face this fall as they try to fill so many holes on both sides of the ball. The conference roadies to Tulsa and UTEP won't be picnics either.
Then there's the schedule's weakeness from an attendance perspective. The first home game isn't until late September, after the overall buzz from the start of football season has worn off, and it's not likely that home opponents like East Carolina and Marshall are going to draw flocks of curious Houston sports fans, either.
This year's closest thing to a "marquee" home opponent is... Colorado State. Since Art Briles has been coach, the University of Houston has been able to play host to a team from a BCS conference (Mississippi State in 2003, Miami in 2004, Oregon in 2005 and Oklahoma State in 2006). All of these games have been well-attended with the exception of the Oregon game (which was impacted by the influx of Katrina refugees into the Reliant Stadium / Astrodome complex the same night this game was played). The CSU Rams, on the other hand, are a team from the non-BCS Mountain West Conference that aren't likely to travel well and aren't likely to pique the interest of the Houston sports fan.
The Cougars also get screwed by not being able to host the Bayou Bucket game against Rice at the beginning of the season, when excitement from both schools' fans is high and attendance is generally decent. This year, the crosstown rivalry is occurring on October 13th. Sandwiched around this date are two trips to the state of Alabama, where the Cougars have never won single game.
Then there's a peculiar Sunday game against SMU, which is apparently is being scheduled for the benefit of ESPN. I'm assuming this game will be played Sunday evening, and as much as I like the national television exposure for the Cougars I just can't foresee a very big crowd attending this event. A Sunday evening kickoff will probably make it difficult for both out-of-town alumni as well as SMU fans from Dallas to attend, and the result could be rows and rows of empty Robertson Stadium seats broadcast on television for all the world to see. Ugh.
The team’s only open week occurs during the second week of the season, and while I guess that's better than no bye week at all (as was the case last season), it probably would have been more beneficial to the team to have a week off to refresh and recover at midseason.
The Coogs end the season with a home game against TSU. This continues a trend whereby UH hosts a Southwestern Athletic Conference school (we had Grambling at Robertson last year and Southern is apparently on the schedule for 2008), and will be the first time the two schools have met on the football field in spite of the fact that the two campuses are literally blocks away from one another. While it's an intriguing matchup and TSU's "Ocean of Soul" marching band will be fun to watch, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has traditionally been a loser for UH football from an attendance perspective because so many people are out of town. Hopefully the novelty of a UH/TSU matchup make up for that.
Certainly, the Cougars have created a bit of buzz for themselves through last season's success, but I unfortunately don't foresee Houston notching the same number of wins this fall. I'd love to be wrong about that, and I still think the Cougars can manage a winning season in 2007 if the right players fall into place and if the team can avoid a slew of key injuries. However, if the Cougars struggle through what looks to be a rebuilding season, the fickle, fair-weather Houston sports fan will quickly lose interest and crowds will dwindle as the season progresses.
This all adds up to a schedule that, from my perspective, is both difficult and has the propensity to be a loser at the gate. To make it clear, I'm not blaming anybody - Athletics Director Dave Maggard or otherwise - for this lousy schedule; it's simply the result of circumstances such as the need to play a return game in Oregon, or the need to work around other schools' schedules, or the simple fact that Conference USA is a crappy athletics conference full of schools nobody in Houston cares about. There's really not a solution to this schedule other than to win games and hope that things work out in the Cougars' favor when future schedules are created. Besides, as favorable as last season's schedule was, I guess this year's schedule is just a way of things evening out.
Nevertheless, I fear that the Cougars will struggle both on the field, and especially at the attendance box, this fall. Last season, the Cougars were able to average home attendance of over 20,000 fans per game. Not great by a long shot, but not horrible by UH standards, either. In 2007, they might have trouble breaking the 15,000 mark.