Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Houston 31, Rice 26

The Cougars retained possession of the Bayou Bucket last Saturday, defeating crosstown rival Rice in a nail-biting 31-26 victory. The Cougars comfortably led 31-10 early in the fourth quarter, but the Owls then made things interesting. They scored a touchdown, blocked a UH field goal attempt and returned it for a score, and then recovered a Sportscenter-worthy onside kick with about a minute remaining. The Cougar defense then had to step up to preserve the victory, which they did when Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue's fourth-down pass sailed incomplete. 

The Good: Greg Ward, a true freshman quarterback from Tyler, made his debut in this game, periodically spelling starting (and fellow true freshman) QB John O'Korn, rushing nine times for 80 yards, and passing three times for 48 yards. O'Korn, for his part, completed 15 of 33 passes for 281 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Receiver Deontay Greenberry had a good afternoon, catching six passes for 146 yards and a touchdown.

The Bad: Rice started out strong and led 13-7 at the end of the first quarter. But the Coogs made adjustments that shut the Owls down until late in the fourth quarter, when two special teams mistakes - an allowed block on a field goal attempt (that was returned for a touchdown) and then a failed recovery of the ensuing onside kick - put the game's outcome in doubt. The Cougars (players as well as coaches) need to learn how to put games away such that late rallies like this do not occur in the future.

The Ugly: Some members of my tailgating group purchased a brand-new pop-up tent from Academy, complete with the new UH "Cougar" logo on the canvas. When we returned to our tailgating area at Reliant Park after the game, we discovered that the tent's canvas had been taken. Maybe some thug walked off the street to take it, perhaps a disgruntled Rice fan took it, or maybe a UH fraternity took it as a prank. Regardless, theft is theft, and whomever took the canvas is truly a douche.

What it means: The Cougars are now 3-0, and retain possession of the Bayou Bucket for the third straight season. With the near-term future of the Bayou Bucket rivalry in doubt - the Coogs and the Owls will probably meet again at some point, but it night take awhile - this was an important "bragging rights" game against a decent opponent (Rice defeated Big XII member Kansas a week ago). Up next for the Coogs is a road trip to the Alamodome to face a highly-motivated UT-San Antonio squad.

About that "forty by forty" thing...

So, remember my declaration from last January that I would lose 40 pounds by my 40th birthday?


I do actually weigh a little bit less today than I did last January. But forty pounds less? Not even close.

It might have been an ambitious goal, but I'm not going to make any excuses. I simply do not possess the motivation or self-control necessary to lose the fat I need to lose in order to become a healthier person.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The World in Flags, Updated

Following up on this post of a few years ago: here's a new and improved map (now featuring more coats of arms, and South Sudan!) of the nations of the world by their flags:

Tremendous credit goes to whomever created this visual masterpiece.

Houston 22, Temple 13

The Cougars won their first-ever AAC conference game, defeating the Owls in Philadelphia.

The Good: When was the last time you could say that the Coogs won because of their defense? That's exactly what happened, however; as the Cougar offense struggled to find the endzone, the defense held Temple to only 13 points, all scored in the first half, and to 300 total yards. The defense also had two interceptions, most importantly Adrian McDonald's pick with 1:18 left that helped to seal the win for the Coogs. True freshman quarterback John O'Korn continued to impress, completing 23 of 31 passes for 233 yards after coming in for the ineffective David Piland. And Richie Leone's foot kept the Cougars in the game: he made five out of six field goal attempts, and his booming punts kept the Temple offense pinned on their end of the field for much of the game.

The Bad: Three words: red zone offense. The Cougars got past the Temple 20 yard line eight times over the course of the game, but could come away with only five field goals until Ryan Jackson finally scored on a ten yard run with 1:06 left to put the game out of reach. Everything seemed to go wrong in the red zone for the Cougars, including poor blocking by the o-line and questionable play calling by the sideline. The Cougars also fumbled twice, gave up two sacks, and committed 8 penalties for 77 yards. Running back Kenneth Farrow, a critical component of the UH offense, had to leave the game early with an ankle injury.

What It Means: It was a frustrating and aggravating game to watch, given the Coogs' red zone struggles, but the play of the defense was very encouraging and the result of the game is an important in-conference win and the first true road win of head coach Tony Levine's career. The Cougars now get a week off before facing crosstown rivals Rice at Reliant Stadium.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A flurry of FCS upsets to begin the 2013 season

This blog's visitor stats tell me that over the last few days there has been renewed interest in my 2007 post about the biggest upsets in college football history (which is, incidentally, the most viewed post on Mean Green Cougar Red). I can't help but wonder if this new traffic is being driven by the record number of FCS-over-FBS upsets that occurred over the weekend:
In all, eight FBS teams lost to FCS opponents: Georgia State (Samford), Iowa State (Northern Iowa), Kansas State (North Dakota State), No. 25 Oregon State (Eastern Washington), San Diego State (Eastern Illinois), South Alabama (Southern Utah), UConn (Towson), and USF (McNeese State). That's a new record for a single weekend.

So the visitors not only collected a handsome check just for showing up, they also delighted in the ritual humiliation of their hosts in front of disgusted fans. This included two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State's takedown of Kansas State on Friday, when the defending Big 12 co-champions unveiled their newly renovated stadium.

But the biggest upset of the weekend belonged to Eastern Washington. Though the Eagles were no slouch - having won the FCS title in 2010, they became just the fourth lower-division team to beat a ranked FBS (or I-A) opponent since Division I split up in 1978. While EWU's 49-46 win over No. 25 Oregon State isn't quite on the scale of Appalachian State's epic shocker over No. 5 Michigan at the Big House in 2007, it did help to illuminate the FCS conundrum facing big-time football programs.
Stewart Mandel explains why these types of results are notable:
FCS teams face no shortage of disadvantages against their FBS foes, most notably fewer scholarship players (63 as opposed to 85), smaller coaching staffs and far fewer financial resources. (Eastern Washington, for example, took an eight-hour bus ride home after its victory in Corvallis.) And that's before taking into account that most of the players in FCS weren't considered good enough to play at FBS schools. [North Dakota State QB Brock] Jensen, a small-town Wisconsin standout, never got an offer from the Badgers. The only offers received by the 6-foot Adams came from two Big Sky schools.
But on any given Saturday ... 
"If you put it all together, it's not some impossible task," said [Eastern Washington head coach Beau] Baldwin. "It's kind of like those teams that play in the NCAA [basketball] tournament. They might not ever be ranked in the Top 25 with those other teams, but on that given Saturday, that No. 14 seed can beat that No. 3 seed."
FCS-over-FBS upsets are becoming more and more common; a few years ago I marveled over six upsets in the first few weeks of the season; this past weekend alone there were eight.

Focusing on the two most notable upsets of the weekend, North Dakota State's 24-21 win over Kansas State, or Eastern Washington's 49-46 upending of 25th-ranked Oregon State: Do either of these games qualify for inclusion in my list of the top ten all-time greatest college football upsets, should I ever get around to updating it?

The outcome of the KSU-NDSU game could be reasonably expected by savvy football watchers (and indeed, Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel made this game his Week One Upset Special). The Wildcats might have won 11 games and a share of the Big XII title last year in route to a Fiesta Bowl appearance, but they were replacing QB Collin Klein on offense and their entire defense. I think KSU was generally expected to experience a drop-off in 2013, as suggested by the AP sportswriters who had KSU ranked #11 at the end of last season but completely out of the preseason top 25 to start this one.

The North Dakota State Bison, on the other hand, are the most dominant team at the FCS level. They are the reigning back-to-back FCS champions, with a 37-7 record over the last three seasons. They know how to win, and they were motivated to pick off a Big XII team that had a lot of rebuilding to do and might not have been taking their opponent as seriously as they should have. This game, in other words, was a recipe for an upset, and nobody should be particularly stunned by its outcome.

EWU-OSU is a bit more of a shocker, if only because the 25th-ranked Beavers were expected to continue the momentum they experienced over the course of  2012 (a 9-4 record and #20 ranking) and perhaps even contend for the Pac-12 title this fall. To be sure, the Beavers looked good on the offense; quarterback Sean Mannion completed 37-of-43 passes for 422 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while running back Storm Woods ran for 68 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.

Normally, 46 points should be enough to win a football game. But - and as a University of Houston Cougar fan I know this painfully well - it doesn't matter how many points your offense scores if your defense cannot stop the other team from matching you point-for-point. And that's exactly what happened to Oregon State, which lost a lot of key players from last year's defense and was accordingly victimized by Eagle quarterback Vernon Adams (422 and 4 TDs through the air; 107 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground). Expect Oregon State to struggle on defense this season.

Eastern Washington, meanwhile, is a strong FCS team, like North Dakota State. They made it all the way to the FCS semifinals last season and won the whole thing in 2010. They deserved to be taken seriously.

So, as of right now, I would say that neither of these games qualify for inclusion in the list of top ten greatest upsets in college football history. I reserve the right to change my opinion based on how well these teams do over the course of the season, and at the very least perhaps they deserve honorable mentions, but to ten? Eh, come back to me when a truly abysmal FCS team beats a ranked FBS team.

Which brings up a final point. With FCS-over-FBS upsets becoming more common, are these types of matchups going to become a thing of the past as big time college programs avoid the risk of being humiliated? The Big Ten, for its part, is not going to permit any of their schools to schedule FCS teams after 2015. Mandel expects these types of games to continue to be played:
While the push toward stronger schedules is certainly a positive thing for the sport, the fact remains that power-conference teams need a certain number of home games, and they're not going to be able to schedule all of them against opponents from comparable conferences. Football could certainly benefit from more, not less, Cinderella stories. However, Eastern Washington (which got a $450,000 paycheck for Saturday's game) and North Dakota State ($350,000) probably aren't helping their cause. Most ADs want to be sure their "guarantee" games are in fact guaranteed wins.
To that end, and thankfully for my Cougars, there are still a lot of teams from the second division of the college football world that still fit the bill quite nicely.

They don't stay puppies very long

Attila is now about seven months old and close to being fully grown. And I probably should have shaved before this picture was taken.

Austin to London, nonstop

Does this mean we're going to see more British acts at SXSW next year?
British Airways has announced new, nonstop service between London and Austin beginning March 3, 2014. The flight will connect Heathrow and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and marks the first regular transatlantic air service for the city of Austin.

“As the Mayor of Austin and a former pilot, I could not be more excited about this announcement by British Airways, one of the world's foremost carriers,” said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “Connecting two of the world's great cities, London and Austin, through this first time, non-stop service between ABIA and Heathrow Airport is sure to take our city to a new level for both business and vacation travelers."
This service truly is a big get for Austin and ABIA, especially considering that when it opened in 1999, when I still lived in Austin, Bergstrom was an "international airport" in name only. They've since added scheduled flights to Cancun and Cabo, but direct flights to London is something entirely different for Austin and its economy.

Austin is now the 11th-largest municipality in the nation, larger than the cities of San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Denver or Washington DC (although those metropolitan areas, including suburbs, might still be bigger). As it has grown, the city has become a player on the international business stage; nonstop flights to Heathrow are a direct indicator of that.

On the flip side, nonstop flights to London might also mean that the city has truly become mainstream: goodbye, weirdness?

Monday, September 02, 2013

Houston 62, Southern 13

The Cougars started the season off on the right foot Friday evening with a convincing win over the Southern Jaguars at Reliant Stadium.

The Good: True freshman John O'Korn had a solid debut, completing 11 of 15 passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns. He and David Piland, who started the game and completed 15 of 23 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown, will probably be rotating behind center for the next few games. Running backs Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow were workhorses, combining for 217 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. The Coogs finished with 627 yards total offense. The team also recovered four Southern turnovers without suffering any turnovers of their own.

The Bad: The defensive secondary got torched by Southern QB Joseph Dray, who completed 27 of 36 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. The Coogs committed 14 penalties for 126 yards. I know it's the first game of the season, but that's a ridiculous statistic. Also, an offensive lineman was lost for the season with an injury. The team really doesn't need the injury bug to bite them again this fall.

What it Means: A win is a win, but it's really hard to get a read on how the Coogs will fare this season based on an easy win over a mediocre FCS opponent (although a lot of schools had problems with FCS opponents over the weekend, which I'll write more about later). We'll know more about the Cougars after next Saturday's trip to Temple.