Monday, October 02, 2006

Local sports musings

Last weekend was a busy weekend for the Houston sports scene. It started Saturday afternoon, when the Coogs traveled to the Orange Bowl to face a reeling but still potent Miami squad. The Coogs tried valiantly to score the upset win (they were two-touchdown underdogs) but came away with a disheartening 13-14 loss.

Due to the time difference, I was unable to follow the game. When I woke up and saw the score, my reaction was, "wow, the Coogs only lost to Miami by one point - at the Orange Bowl, no less." However, after reading the game stories as well as the multitude of posts on various UH fan message boards, I learned just how close the Coogs came to pulling off the victory. If Jackie Battle hadn't fumbled inside the Miami ten, if Donnie Avery hadn't dropped a sure touchdown pass, if the defense hadn't given up a 3rd and 24 to Miami, if the referees hadn't screwed up what was an obvious Miami fumble, if the Coogs had fewer penalties... Maybe it's a good thing I wasn't able to follow the game or I'd be much more upset about what could have been.

But that's just it: a program like Houston simply cannot afford to make mistakes against a team of Miami's caliber and expect to win. The Hurricanes' 1-2 record going into the game was a bit misleading, with losses to Florida State and Louisville; they're still a premier program with a great deal of physical talent. That the Coogs only lost by a point, rather than by a three-touchdown blowout (and I still remember the heartbreaking 40-10 debacle of 1991 that signaled the end of the Run and Shoot era) speaks volumes about how far the UH football program has progressed under Art Briles.

Now the Coogs need to put their disappointment behind them and get well with a victory over Louisiana-Lafayette this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Rice Owls notched their first win of the season, a 48-14 rout of Army at West Point. The win was an emotional one for the Owls, who were reeling from the sudden death of freshman defensive back Dale Lloyd earlier in the week. Having completed their murderous non-conference slate of UCLA, Texas and Florida State, the Owls look towards conference play with the hope that the future is brighter for them than the past.

On Sunday, the Texans gained a bit of local revenge on the city of Miami by defeating the Dolphins 17-15 for their first win of the season. The game was on TV here in Dubai, so I was able to watch it; I'm not sure why the NFL allowed a matchup of two teams as bad as the Texans and the Dolphins to be broadcast across the planet for the entire world to see, but I wasn't complaining. Much-maligned #1 draft pick Mario Williams finally showed something, picking up one and a half sacks and disrupting a Miami two-point conversion to preserve the win.

Then there's the Astros, whose bid for a third-straight postseason berth ended on Sunday, the last day of the season, with a 3-1 loss to Atlanta. I have to give props to the Astros for not quitting when they easily could have played out the string on a disappointing season. They won 10 of their last 12 games of the season and that, along with an epic meltdown by the St. Louis Cardinals, almost put the 'Stros atop the NL Central and into the playoffs. Almost, but not quite.

It just wasn't the Astros' year. Among other things, their lack of offensive production (the team's .255 batting average is dead last in the National League) and shaky relief pitching made for a mediocre season and it was just too much to expect them to pull off a miracle and make it into the playoffs for the third consecutive year. They end the season with an 82-80 record and second place in their division.

The Houston Dynamo, meanwhile, punched their ticket to the MLS playoffs with a 1-0 victory over DC United at Robertson Stadium.

Returning to college football for a moment and focusing on the Metroplex, the Mean Green's offensive woes continue. North Texas was shut out by Middle Tennessee State, 35-0, at Fouts Field last Saturday. And remember last week ago when I said that I wouldn't bet against TCU going undefeated and crashing the BCS party in January? Well, I'm glad I didn't bet on them doing so, either. The Horned Frogs' dreams of doing so came to an end after a 31-17 home loss to Brigham Young. The loss knocked TCU out of the top 25 in both polls.

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