Thursday, June 04, 2009

Is it football season yet?

The beginning of June can only mean one thing: another hot, oppressive Houston summer is here (although today was actually nice, relatively speaking). The only good thing about the summer, of course, is that I will be rewarded for my suffering towards the end of it when college football season starts.

To be sure, kickoff for the University of Houston's 2009 campaign is still over 90 days away. And, of course, I'm trying not to get too excited about the upcoming season because the more excited I become, the worse the team seems to do. But it's hard not to at least begin building some optimism for a team that is coming off its first bowl victory in almost 30 years and is returning a bunch of skill on offense. Especially when ESPN's Bruce Feldman picks the Coogs as a potential BCS buster:
4. Houston: Kevin Sumlin is a rising star in the coaching business and his team should be dangerous this season. QB Case Keenum is an underrated gem with wonderful pocket presence and is just one of those undersized, Texas-bred quarterbacks who light up the scoreboard all season. He has a lot of speed around him and UH imported some talented juco O-linemen. The D does have a lot of holes to fill but UH is going to win a lot of shootouts. The game at Oklahoma State could be a 70-55 kind of affair. Then, UH gets a week off before hosting Texas Tech; Mike Leach protégé UH offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen gets to try to take down his mentor. The Cougs [sic] have the talent to keep both games very interesting. Road trips to Tulsa and UTEP also will be worth watching. Ten wins might seem like a lot but I think it's very realistic and would get them into the top 25.
It's hard for me to believe that the Coogs will actually be able to bust into the BCS picture this fall - I think there's just too many missing pieces on defense for that to happen this year - but the mere fact that Houston is now being recognized by the national media as being among schools like Utah, BYU, Boise State and TCU as possible BCS party-crashers is definitely welcome.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports also thinks Houston could be a potential BCS buster. And he expcets the Coogs to win their division this fall, as well:
West Division

1. Houston -- Kevin Sumlin set a school record for wins by a first-year head coach (eight). Don't be surprised if the former Oklahoma assistant pumps out double digit wins this year. Sumlin's best players still haven't reached their peak yet. Quarterback Case Keenum (5,020 passing yards) should be a Heisman candidate. Tyron Carrier caught 80 balls as a freshman. If a shaky defense holds up behind CUSA defensive player of the year Phillip Hunt, the big boys better watch out. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State are all on the schedule. They're all winnable games.
This would be a great write-up, Dennis, except for one thing: Philip Hunt has graduated. Gotta do your research before you write these things. The loss of players like Philip Hunt, in fact, is why I'm so worried about the UH defense this fall. I really fear it will be worse than last year's.

There's still a long way to go, though. Maybe some fresh talent coming into school this fall will be able to fill some of those holes on the defensive side of the ball. I'll wait to see who's enrolled and catch a few August scrimmages before I cement my expectations for the coming season in my annual season preview.

Finally, you know the summertime doldrums have arrived for University of Houston sports fans when the Robertson - versus - Reliant debate rears its ugly and tired head once again. The Chronicle's Steve Campbell generated some discussion going on his blog when he reposted a comment from somebody who claims that that the University of Houston will never be a viable candidate for inclusion in a BCS conference because Robertson Stadium (and, for that matter, Hofheinz Pavilion) cannot become "the kind of facilities that turn heads" regardless of how much money is spent to improve them. The commenter describes a rosy scenario of 72,000 fans showing up at a stadium to tailgate prior to a game between the University of Houston and the University of Alabama and then writes:
This game will never take place on the UH campus. This game can only occur when UH leaders follow the wisdom of their forefathers and bring UH football to Reliant Stadium. Just as school leaders in the 60's came to realize Houston, the city, has some of the most outstanding athletic facilities in the world and UH is taking a narrow perspective turning our backs on this gift of the taxpayers, following some dictate that UH football has to be on the campus.
Please. If I had a dollar for very time I've heard one of these lame and logically unjustifable statements on UH discussion forums - that the University of Houston will never have a big-time game-day environment on campus (because of the bad neighborhood, presumably), that the UH administration needs to move its games to Reliant in 2009 just because a previous administration moved its games to the Astrodome in 1965, that it's somehow beneficial for the program to play its games in off-campus venues that it rents rather than on-campus venues that it owns - I'd have enough money to pay for Robertson's refurbishment myself.

The cold hard fact is that the University of Houston simply does not have a large enough fanbase to make renting out a 70-thousand seat facility like Reliant economically feasible. Besides the fact that the program would lose money - in addition to rent, it would have to share parking and concessions revenues with the owners of Reliant - the games would assume the sterile, tomblike atmosphere of playing in a stadium that's too big for the fan base, which is exactly what happened at the Astrodome for all games except those against Texas, Texas A&M and Arkansas (wherein 2/3rds of the fans were Teasips, Aggies or Hogs anyway). No thank you.

We've tried the Reliant experiment before, as a matter of fact. It was only half-full for the game against Miami in 2004, and was positively cavernous for the game against Oregon in 2005. It's simply too big for the UH program as it currently exists. It doesn't fit the program's needs. Period.

Does Robertson Stadium need upgrades? Yes, desperately. Will those upgrades be expensive? Of course. Where will the money come from? That's a good question. But, in the long run, the UH football program is going to benefit more from playing in an on-campus venue that it can tailor for its needs rather than in an off-campus venue that simply does not meet them. This is especially true as the University of Houston implements its master plan which seeks to build more student housing and add more amenities so that the campus is transformed from a commuter one to a residential one; in that regard, moving the football games to Reliant (or, for that matter, the basketball games to the Toyota Center) makes absolutely no sense. (Short-sighted decisions like closing the Human Development Lab School don't make sense in that context, either, but that's an argument for a different day.)

So lets quit beating this dead horse. I'm looking forward to the start of football - in Robertson Stadium - this fall.

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