Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 Houston Cougar football attendance

I finally got around to the annual update of my wins-versus-attendance graph for UH Cougar Football:
The Coogs averaged 33,980 fans over seven home games, which is an increase of 5,666 fans per game since last year and almost ten thousand fans per game since the 2013 season. This is Houston's largest average attendance since the 1979 season (37,847). This attendance average, furthermore, would not have been possible in Robertson Stadium, which had a maximum capacity of 32,000.

Thus, for all the hand-wringing about the number of people attending Houston football games, things are clearly trending in the right direction.

(Updated 1/21/16 to reflect Peach Bowl win)

Interstate 14

Texas is getting another interstate. Eventually:
Interstate 14 will be cobbled together mostly from U.S. 190 and other existing roads to create a new freeway from western Texas to the Louisiana border. The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, based in Austin, announced the designation Tuesday.

The interstate will take years to build as highway segments must be brought up to freeway standards such as no at-grade intersections and various safety upgrades to allow for higher speeds.

According to the coalition, I-14 will connect Killeen, Belton, Bryan-College Station, Huntsville, Livingston, Woodville and Jasper before terminating at Texas 63 at the Sabine River.
To be clear, I-14 wouldn't "terminate" at that location; it would simply continue into Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and potentially South Carolina as part of the "14th Amendment Highway."

I've known that this is been in the works for awhile. I'm less clear on the purpose Interstate 14 is supposed to serve. It's being billed as a "Forts to Ports" highway, even though it doesn't directly serve any ports here in Texas (and the military is likely to continue to rely on railroads to move the bulk of their material to and from port facilities anyway). Given that Texas is one of the few states in the country without an Interstate link between its capital in its largest city, it seems like it would make more sense for Interstate 14 to generally follow the route of US 290, rather than 190.

At any rate, it will be a long time before I-14 comes to full fruition. As of today, the only section of US 190 here in Texas that could possibly meet interstate standards is the stretch that runs from Copperas Cove to Belton and serves Fort Hood. Maybe a few miles of H. K. Dodgen Loop running along the south side of Temple would qualify as well, if direct connectors from I-35 were built. Otherwise, as is the case with Interstate 69, the realization of I-14 will be a slow and piecemeal process.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

AAC Championship: Houston 24, Temple 13

The Cougars clinched their first conference championship since 2006 last weekend, defeating the AAC East champion, 22nd-ranked Temple, at TDECU Stadium. (Check out these awesome pictures of the game.)

The Good: Greg Ward, Jr was his usual self, rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns. The Cougar defense forced two turnovers, stopped three Temple fourth-down conversion attempts and limited the Owl offense to a single touchdown.

The Bad: The UH offense sputtered in the second half, with three-consecutive three-and-outs even as the Owls scored the game's final ten points. Temple quarterback P.J.Walker had his way with the UH defense, passing for 287 yards and a touchdown.

The Ugly: Employees of security contractor CSC, in a (generally unsuccessful) attempt to keep students from rushing the field after the game, were filmed physically assaulting people. This story made national news, and the University of Houston has terminated its contract with CSC as a result.

What it means: By virtue of being the highest-ranked "Group of Five" school, the Cougars have punched their ticket to the so-called "New Year's Six" group of bowl games; they will face Florida State in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on December 31.

Whether the Coogs can beat the Seminoles, I have no idea. What I do know is that, regardless of the Peach Bowl's outcome, the 2015 season is an unqualified success. 12 wins, a conference championship, a "New Year's Six" bowl: this was the year long-suffering UH fans have been waiting for, and I don't think anybody, save the most delusionally-optimistic of UH fans, could have predicted something like this back in August. (I sure as Hell didn't!) I'm pretty happy right now.

Go Coogs!

North Texas hires a new football coach

Welcome to Denton, Mr. Littrell:
North Carolina offensive coordinator Seth Littrell will be named head coach at North Texas, the school announced on Saturday night.

Littrell and the Tar Heels are in their first ACC title game Saturday against Clemson.

Littrell, 37, has been at UNC the past two seasons. Before joining the Tar Heels, he was an offensive coordinator at Indiana (2012-13) and Arizona (2009-11). He also was an assistant at Texas Tech from 2005 to 2008.
Before Littrell was hired, the Denton Record-Chronicle's Brett Vito argued that this is a hire that North Texas must get right:
(Interim head coach Mike) Canales hinted at just how important UNT’s new coach would be to the program’s hopes to improve in his final appearance with the Mean Green.

“I wish the new coach the best of luck because this place means a lot to me,” Canales said. “I want to see it be successful and back to going to bowl games. They will do great things and this program will go right back to where it needs to be.”

McCarney had the Mean Green at that point back in 2013, when UNT produced one of the greatest seasons in program history — a 9-4 campaign capped by a win against UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

UNT just couldn’t sustain that momentum, slid back to 4-8 and finally 1-11, leaving the 2013 season as the only winning campaign in the past 11 years.

The empty stands UNT played in front of for most of the year are a glaring indication that the Mean Green are going to do more than just field a team at a nice venue to convince all but their most loyal supporters to come out.

Miss on this decision, and UNT could be looking at an even longer stretch of floundering football, one that will further diminish what support the school has to work with in terms of support going forward at a time other programs UNT competes with in the state appear to be on the rise.
This is the key issue: North Texas has excellent facilities, most notably Apogee Stadium, completed in 2011 at a cost of $78 million. It is located in the recruit-rich DFW Metroplex. It has the 5th-largest enrollment in the state. There is no reason why this program cannot be competitive in Conference USA.

Yet the Mean Green continue to struggle, both on the field and at the gate. An announced crowd of 8,305 attended UNT's season-ending loss to UTEP, although as Vito reports (and as anybody who watched it on TV can attest) that the actual number of people in the stands was much lower. The program averaged 13,631 for its season just concluded - the lowest average, Vito reports, since 1998. That's not the type of return that UNT athletics expects on its investment, and it's not the type of return that makes the program sustainable.
UNT just can’t afford to miss on this hire. It’s been a long, long time since UNT was consistently successful back in the early 2000s under Darrell Dickey, who led the Mean Green to four straight conference titles beginning in 2001.

Ironically, Dickey was named the interim coach at Memphis on Sunday after Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech.

UNT has to start stringing together winning seasons again like it did for a while under Dickey. The school and its supporters have invested far too much to see the program continue to flounder.

UNT has searched for an answer to how to spark its program ever since that run of winning seasons.

The school has a new stadium and a spot in Conference USA.

Soon it will have a new coach. For UNT’s sake, the school had better hope it will have the final piece of the puzzle with its new head coach as well.
What about Littrell's coaching experience?
Littrell has excelled while guiding UNC’s offense in 2014 and 2015. The Tar Heels are averaging 495.7 yards per game this season. Before UNC, he served as offensive coordinator at Indiana University, which finished ninth in the nation in total offense in 2013, averaging 508.5 yards per game. Littrell first became an offensive coordinator during a three-year stay at the University of Arizona from 2009-11. He was the co-offensive coordinator in 2010 and took over the job full-time the following season.

Littrell, an Oklahoma native, last worked in Texas from 2005-08, when he was the running backs coach at Texas Tech. He is a University of Oklahoma graduate and was a running back and team captain on the Sooners’ 2000 national championship team.

Littrell went into coaching after his playing days and has coached in seven bowl games.
Looks pretty good. Having been a Mean Green fan since I moved to Denton in 1999, and following the football program's ups-and-downs through the tenures of Darrell Dickey, Todd Dodge, Dan McCarney and Mike Canales (twice, in an interim capacity), I can only hope that Littrell succeeds. I guess we'll find out, starting in the fall of 2016.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Houston 52, Navy 31

The Cougars won the AAC West title in convincing fashion last Saturday, manhandling 16th-ranked Navy in front of a sellout crowd at TDECU stadium.

The Good: Greg Ward Jr, who missed last week's loss to UConn with an injury, completed 26 of 35 passes for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Wilson, who was switched from cornerback to running back to take the place of an injured Kenneth Farrow, rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Demarcus Ayers had eight receptions for 161 yards and one touchdown, including a pair of highlight-reel catches. He also threw for a touchdown. The defense utterly smothered Navy's potent triple option, holding the Midshipmen to just 4 of 11 third down conversions and limiting Heisman hopeful Keenan Reynolds to 84 yards and one TD on 19 carries.

The Bad: Reynolds had a good day in the air, completing 13 of 16 passes for 312 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. That being said, Navy's preferred offense is not pass-oriented, and they were clearly out of their comfort zone.

The Ugly: Although Navy probably didn't need to be prolonging the inevitable by spiking the ball when they were down by 21 with less than a minute remaining, the smattering of boos from UH fans was uncalled for. You don't boo a service academy, folks!

What it Means: The Cougars will face Temple at TDECU Stadium for the American Athletic Conference Championship next Saturday. The winner will likely be the "Group of 5" representative to the "New Year's Six" group of prestigious bowls.

Thanks to the win, Houston also reappears in the College Football Playoff rankings at #19. Tom Fornelli at CBS Sports thinks the playoff committee is slighting them:
I'm not exactly enraged over this, but Houston just doesn't get enough credit for being 11-1 simply because it's in the American Athletic Conference. I know the AAC isn't a Power Five conference, but it currently has three teams ranked by the committee. It deserves a bit more respect than it gets.

This is a Houston team that not only beat a Navy team that was ranked No. 15 last week, but beat it by 21 points. Its sole loss (at 6-6 UConn) looks really bad, but it's important to realize the Cougars lost on the road without their starting quarterback.

So while I'm not going to sit here and say Houston should be in the top 10, at 11-1, with the season it has had, it certainly deserves to be higher than No. 19 if Navy was able to reach No. 15 last week.
More important to UH faithful is that head coach Tom Herman, who had been rumored to be in the running for other head coaching jobs around the nation, is apparently sticking around in Houston for a little while longer:
Houston Cougar head coach Tom Herman yesterday sought to set aside the rumors that he’s been considering leaving the University of Houston. Addressing the media in advance of Saturday’s American Athletic Conference title game, Herman stated that he and the school have agreed in principle to terms for a new contract.

“We have agreed in principle,” Herman said. “That is probably the best way to put it. We are working out the details of a contract, I don’t want to speak on any specifics, because those aren’t worked out yet, but we are moving in the right direction and have agreed in principle on the generalities of what is next."

“I’m here right now,” Herman continued. “And again, these things take twists and turns along the way as they sometimes do, but I don’t anticipate that happening. That is about all I am going to say about it.”
I'm not going to be completely comfortable about this until the contract is signed, nor am I under any illusion that Herman is going to stay at UH for more than a few more years. But it would have left a bad taste in my mouth if he had decided to move on after just one season. Thanks to him, this season has been successful beyond my imagination, and I think he can do greater things here if he stays a little while longer.

That includes a win over a tough Temple Owl team and a Conference Championship on Saturday.

Some 5-7 teams get to go bowling

Some teams with losing records will be going bowling this season:
It’s official: There will be multiple teams with losing records playing in bowl games next month.

With only currently 75 bowl-eligible teams to fill 80 bowl berths, at least two bowls will need teams with 5-7 records. And there could be as many as five teams with losing record earning bowl berths because not enough teams reached six wins to fill the record 41 bowl games, including the College Football Playoff title game.
I've always pushed back against the argument that there are "too many" bowl games. Nobody's forcing anyone to watch the ones they find uninteresting or unworthy, and as a college football fan I agree with something that former Sports Illustrated sportswriter Arash Markazi once said: "At the end of the day, it's still college football and what could be better than college football in December and early January? Saying there are too many bowl games is like saying there are too many presents under the Christmas tree."

That being said, you have to wonder if we've reached the bowl saturation threshold. Bowl games are supposed to be a reward for teams that had a successful, winning season. More recently, the proliferation of bowl games has meant that anybody who manages a .500 record goes to a bowl. Now we've come to the point where teams with losing records get to go bowling.

While we've come a long way from when deserving teams were routinely shut out of bowl games - I used to keep tally of the winning teams that were Screwed and Shafted out of postseason play - it appears we've reached the point where bowl games are an award for participation, rather than an actual reward for success.

Unless, perhaps, it's success in the classroom, which will decide which schools with losing records make it to the postseason:
Teams with 5-7 records will become eligible for at least two bowl bids and as many as five, based on their Academic Progress Rates. The NCAA Division I council approved a recommendation made by the football oversight committee Monday to fill the record 41 bowls with five-win teams because not enough teams will meet the standard bowl-eligibility requirements.
To no one's surprise, a certain school on South Main has made the list of potentials:
Based on 2013-14, Nebraska has the best APR among 5-7 teams, at 985. Missouri and Kansas State are next on the list, with an APR of 976, followed by Minnesota (975), San Jose State (975), Illinois (973) and Rice (973).
Nebraska, as the first team in line for a bowl invite based on APR, announced Monday night it will play in a bowl if invited.
Missouri, however, will decline any potential bowl. In order for the Owls to make it into the postseason, other schools listed above will have to decline invites as well, and a couple of teams fighting for bowl eligibility will have to lose on Saturday:
Kansas State can become bowl eligible Saturday with a win at West Virginia, but the Wildcats should get in either way. Georgia State (5-6) visits Georgia Southern and South Alabama (5-6) hosts Appalachian State as those teams seek to reach bowl-eligibility based on record and shut out the 5-7 teams with high APRs.

In the past 20 years, only three teams with losing records have received bowl berths: Georgia Tech (2012), UCLA (2011) and North Texas (2001).
I remember that 2001 North Texas team well, because I lived in Denton at the time. They went 0-5 out-of-conference, but their 5-1 in-conference record was good enough for them to clinch the Sun Belt title and go to the New Orleans Bowl.

At the time, the idea of a team with a losing record going to a bowl seemed like a bizarre oddity, a once-in-a-generation fluke. But now it appears to be becoming commonplace.

Guy V. Lewis, 1922-2015

The legendary University of Houston basketball coach has passed away:

Guy V. Lewis, the self-professed “good ol’ boy from Arp” and father of the Phi Slama Jama basketball dynasty at the University of Houston, has died. He was 93.

Lewis died Thursday in Kyle.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Hall of Fame Coach Guy V. Lewis, who passed away this morning," UH athletic director Hunter Yurachek said on Twitter. "A true Cougar legend."

With his signature red polka-dot towel in hand, Lewis was the winningest coach in UH history, compiling 592 victories and making five Final Four trips while coaching such stars as Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in 30 seasons from 1956 to 1986.

Off the court, he was regarded as a visionary and innovator for putting together the 1968 “Game of the Century” against top-ranked UCLA at the Astrodome and for being one of the first college basketball coaches to embrace racial integration in the South.

“He belongs on a pedestal with the greatest coaches ever to coach the game,” Drexler said. “Where the game of basketball is today is because of Guy V. Lewis.”

I'm glad Lewis lived long enough to see himself finally get inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Given his contributions to the sport, he should have been inducted much sooner. The fact that he never won a national championship - North Carolina State's miracle finish against the Cougars in the 1983 NCAA Championship will always be a dark spot in this city's sports history - was the only blemish on his amazing legacy.
“The coaches I hated coaching against were the real good ones, and Guy was one of those,” legendary UCLA coach John Wooden said in 1998. “I think Guy took a bum rap because he never won a national championship.”
Lewis led the Cougars to Final Four appearances in 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983 and 1984. Those accomplishments seem even more amazing today, considering the dumpster fire that UH basketball has been lately.
Guy Vernon Lewis was born on March 19, 1922, in Arp, Texas, just outside Tyler, the son of an independent oil wildcatter at the height of the East Texas oil boom.

After serving as an Army Air Corps flight instructor in World War II, Lewis returned and played two years at Rice and eventually decided to attend UH in 1946. A 6-foot-3 co-captain, Lewis was the leading scorer on the first two UH basketball teams in 1946-47.

Lewis returned to UH for the 1953-54 season, serving two seasons as an assistant before his promotion to head coach when Alden Pasche retired in 1956.

UH reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 1961, one of 14 appearances under Lewis. In all, Lewis coached 15 All-Americans and 10 NBA first-round picks, among them Donnie Schyerak, Gary Phillips, Hayes, Chaney, Drexler, Olajuwon, Dwight Davis, Dwight Jones, Otis Birdsong, Rob Williams and Michael Young.

Three players – Hayes, Drexler and Olajuwon – are in the Hall of Fame and were voted among the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all-time.
Guy and his wife, Dena, who passed away shortly before he did, lived in the same University Oaks neighborhood where I grew up and where my parents still live. So it's not a stretch to say that I've lost a neighbor as well as a legend. 

Thank you, Guy, and rest in peace.