Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cougars end regular season with 9-3 record

They won. They're 9-3. They're Western Division champions. That's all that matters.

Yes, it was ugly. Memphis is one of the worst teams in all of Division I-A, and the Coogs did everything they could do to give the game away to the Tigers. The "Unholy Trinity" of penalties, turnovers and poor special teams play that has plagued the Cougars all season long was present once again. The Cougars fumbled twice, and Memphis blocked a UH field goal attempt with 2:07 to play and ran it back 80 yards for a touchdown that sent the game into overtime. The Cougars also racked up thirteen penalties for 105 yards. The offensive line's performance wasn't too great as well; Memphis focused on blitzing Kolb and sacked him an astounding seven times.

However, the Cougars managed to hold off Memphis in overtime. The Tigers missed a 40-yard field goal on their possession, and kicker Ben Bell hit his 17-yarder on the Coogs' possession to give Houston the hard-fought win on the road. An ugly victory is always better than a pretty loss.

It is disappointing that the Cougars played such a sloppy and unfocused game against such an inferior opponent. Did the players and coaches not learn anything from their disastrous experience against Louisiana-Lafayette earlier in the season? To be fair to the Coogs, however,, it should also be noted that they were battered, bruised and exhausted. While most other Division I-A schools have had a bye week or two to rest over the course of the season, the Coogs have played twelve games in twelve weeks.

With the win, the Coogs notched their fifth consecutive victory, secured their most successful season since 1990's 10-1 campaign and locked up home field advantage for the Conference USA Championship game, which will be played on the evening of December 1st against either Southern Miss or East Carolina. Should the Cougars win that game, they will return to Memphis to represent the conference in the Liberty Bowl on December 29th.

Last August, I predicted that the Cougars would win eight games over the course of the regular season. I wasn't too far off; in fact, I'm glad that they were a game better than I predicted them to be:

I believe they will defeat Rice, Tulane, Grambling, ULL and take two of UTEP, UCF and Tulsa at home. They'll exact revenge against SMU in Dallas, and win one of their road games against USM and Memphis. A win over Oklahoma State is also a possibility, but after the Fort Worth Bowl debacle against Kansas I'm not confident enough to predict a Cougar victory over even a struggling Big XII school. And Miami, well, I'd be happy to see the Coogs cover the spread.

The Coogs did defeat Rice, Tulane, Grambling and SMU. They beat Memphis, but lost to USM. They exceeded my expectations in many ways: the Coogs swept their home slate of UTEP, Tulsa and UCF (although, to be fair, UCF and UTEP turned out to be a lot weaker than I expected), they almost pulled off the upset against Miami in the Orange Bowl, and they defeated Big XII opponent Oklahoma State at Robertson Stadium. But the Coogs also, inexplicably and unforgivably, lost at home to a rather weak Louisiana-Lafayette team. Had the Cougars taken care of business against the Cajuns, they'd be 10-2 and likely ranked in the top 25 right now. With a good showing in the conference championship game and their bowl game, the Coogs could still manage to end the season in the top 25, but oh, what could have been!

With the regular season complete, the Coogs now have almost two whole weeks to rest up and get healthy before they host the Conference Championship. Early reports are that ticket sales for this game are brisk, which is encouraging: a big crowd would look good for ESPN's TV cameras; Houston's inability to sell out the conference championship game would not.

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