Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Houston 59, Central Florida 10

Houston started out this game very sluggish, and Central Florida actually led 10-7 with a little over two minutes left in the first half. But then the Coogs woke up, scoring 17 points in the final 2:05 of the half en route to a 59-10 rout of the Golden Knights.

The Good: Houston got the "never won at Brighthouse Networks Stadium" monkey off their back in a big way, accumulating 600 yards of total offense. The Golden Knights had no answer for the Cougar ground game, which accumulated 366 yards and five touchdowns on 48 carries. UH's defense held Central Florida's hapless offense to a paltry 280 yards and forced four turnovers, including an 85-yard fumble return by Brandon Wilson that was Houston's only score for the first 27 minutes of the game.

The Bad: Penalties continue to be a problem for the Cougars, who were flagged seven times for 87 yards. That being said, "bad" can only describe the 0-8 Central Florida Knights. They just looked awful.

The Ugly: Would describe the Cougars throughout most of the first half. Following Wilson's fumble return for a touchdown, they punted four times, went three-and-out twice, and amassed a whopping total of 49 yards offense. After UCF scored to go ahead, it looked like a major upset was possible. The Cougars are going to see their undefeated record come to an end if they have that poor of a start against Vanderbilt, Cincinnati or Memphis.

What it Means: This loss was the end of the line for Central Florida head coach George O'Leary, who retired following the game. The Cougars are 7-0, are moving up in the polls, and will face Vanderbilt at TDECU Stadium on Halloween night.

SciGuy leaves the Chronicle

Eric Berger, the Chronicle's longtime science and weather writer, is moving on:
Hey everyone, as you may know by now I am leaving the Chronicle to write about space for Ars Technica. 
It has been a wonderful 17 years at the Chronicle. I have written this blog for more than a decade, and for the most part it has been a labor of love. I have literally written thousands of posts and approved 100,000s of comments. 
But all good things must come to an end. To keep track of my future endeavors be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter. 
I will be writing more about space and weather than ever.
For a moment I was worried that Berger's departure meant the end of his days blogging about the weather as well. His (now dormant) weather blog at the Chronicle was the best source for local meteorological information and was a mandatory morning read for me, and I wasn't looking forward to the desperate search for a new accurate and hype-free source of local weather information. But upon checking his Facebook page, I discovered this:

Space City Weather

Update your links and favorites accordingly.

Berger's departure appears, at least from my vantage point, to be another nail in the Chronicle's coffin.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Houston 42, Tulane 7

Last Friday the Cougars made their first trip to Tulane's new Yulman Stadium in New Orleans... and came back with a win. 

The Good: Quarterback Greg Ward Jr was his usual electric self, completing 17 of 25 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 77 yards and three scores. Wide receiver Demarcus Ayers also put on a show, gaining 283 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a punt return. The Cougar defense, meanwhile, smothered the Green Wave offense, forcing them to punt 11 times and holding Tulane of a paltry 262 yards of total offense.

The Bad: Tulane scored a touchdown on a fake punt to notch their only score of the night and keep from being shut out. As good as the defense played, they forced no Tulane turnovers. Ward threw his first interception since the Louisville game.

The Ugly: The game was very sloppy: Houston committed 10 penalties for 99 yards, including a penalty on special teams that kept DeMarcus Ayers from scoring a second touchdown on a punt return. Tulane, for their part, had 12 penalties for 133 yards. Houston's makeshift, injury-plagued offensive line is a real concern. They were manhandled by Tulane's defensive line, and things are so bad that UH is holding tryouts for walk-on linemen.

What it Means: Houston is now 6-0 and bowl-eligible. It's hard to believe that the season is half-over already!

Next up for the Cougars is a trip to Orlando to play Central Florida. The Golden Knights are 0-7 on the season, but the Cougars should not take them lightly, as they are 1-5 all-time against UCF and have never won a game in UCF's stadium.

Friday, October 16, 2015

International flights from Hobby are now a reality

As of yesterday:
Passengers on the first flight out of Hobby Airport's new international concourse were greeted bright and early Thursday morning by a line of cheering Southwest Airlines' employees, whooping and hollering as travelers entered the concourse.

A mariachi band serenaded them as they waited at the gate. And before boarding their 8 a.m. flight for Cancún, fliers got a handshake from Mayor Annise Parker and Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly.

Paul and Pamela Curry, from the Katy area, were counting on this excitement. They were going to travel this weekend anyway, and Pamela saw the opportunity to be on Southwest's first flight.

"I figured Southwest being Southwest, they'd make an event out of it," she said. "And they have."
Paul chimed in, saying he enjoyed walking into the concourse to applause. 

Their ultimate destination is Akumal, south of Cancún, where they can go snorkeling in a turtle sanctuary.

Thursday marks the first time Hobby has had full-fledged international service since 1969.
"Sun is coming up, and it really is the dawn of a new era here for the city of Houston," Kelly said during a news conference.
Southwest spent $146 million, $10 million less than expected, on the 280,000-square-foot complex with five gates, a larger ticketing area and a Customs inspection station. Four of the five gates are preferentially leased by Southwest, and they're "swing gates" that can accommodate both domestic and international travelers. Seven more gates can be added later.
In order for Southwest to implement international service from Hobby, they had to convince City Council to ignore a temper tantrum from United Airlines as well as convince Mexican and US aviation authorities to waive treaty-specified limitations on flights between the two countries.

In addition to Cancún, Southwest now flies from Hobby to Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo in Mexico; San Jose, Costa Rice; Belize City, Belize; and seasonally to Aruba. Flights to Montego Bay, Jamaica and Liberia, Costa Rica, begin in November. As of now Southwest has not announced any other international services out of Hobby, and to my knowledge no other airlines, foreign or domestic, have indicated that they will themselves to Hobby's new international facilities.

One airline that will never be using Hobby's international gates under any circumstance, however, is US Airways. Today was their final flight as an airline:
It's the end of the line for US Airways.

The airline that started as a tiny airmail service 76 years ago is retiring as part of a 2013 merger with American Airlines. The final US Airways flight is scheduled to take off from Philadelphia on Friday.

It's a small part of a huge trend that's affecting how more than 660 million domestic air travelers fly every year.

Fourteen years ago, the United States had 10 major domestic airlines. Now, the competing major carriers have merged into four: American, Delta, Southwest and United.

Together, they control about 87% of the domestic market, MIT's International Center for Air Transportation said.
I previously covered this merger here, here and here. Does its completion mark the end of the consolidation trend in the domestic airline industry, at least for now?
Are more megamergers coming? Will four be cut to three? Unlikely, says Winston. "Mergers are very risky propositions. They don't necessarily work well." Corporate cultures can clash. Merging complicated computer reservation and scheduling networks can be bumpy, at best. Just ask United Airlines, which was still struggling to smooth its operations five years after its megamerger with Continental Airlines, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Appropriately, US Airways' last run will be Flight 1939, the year it all began. The flight will depart Friday from Philadelphia, heading to Charlotte and then Phoenix and San Francisco. From there, it will take off again and fly east, ending its celebratory journey on Saturday back in Philly, in the state where its history began.
CNN has an infographic of airline consolidation showing that, since the century began, we've gone to 10 major airlines to just four; not shown is JetBlue, who would round out the top five.

Houston, we have another post-season chokejob

The Astros had a great season, performing much better than most people expected. I don't think anybody would have believed you if you had said back when the season begun that the team that struggled not to lose 100 games last season would notch an 86-76 record, make the playoffs, and beat the almighty Yankees in the Wild Card game. Winning baseball has returned to Houston after a very long absence, and the future is looking bright for the young team.

With all that said: I will reluctantly have to add the Astros' series against Kansas City to my list of top post-season chokejobs in Houston sports history. This is simply due to the meltdown in the eighth inning of game 4. The Astros were leading by four runs, at home, and were six outs from winning the series when Carlos Correa committed an error, the relief pitching fell apart, and the Royals were allowed to rally with a five-run inning. The Royals tacked on another two runs in the ninth to win the game and force a gave five in Kansas City. That is, by definition, a chokejob.

The Astros had one more opportunity to win the series last night, but the bullpen's meltdown gave the Royals all the momentum playing in their own ballpark, and the better-than-expected season came to a disappointing end.

As successful as the 2015 season was for the Astros, there is room for improvement. A better road record is a start: their 33-48 record in road games was the worst in the American League. And yeah, they gotta learn to keep their focus in the postseason.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

North Texas fires Dan McCarney after inexcusable loss

Yeah... When you pay an FCS school $425k to be an easy homecoming win, and they instead come to your stadium and utterly humiliate you, it's time for a change:
Dan McCarney was fired as North Texas' head coach Saturday night following a devastating loss to Portland State in the Mean Green's homecoming game.

The Vikings hammered UNT 66-7, the largest margin of defeat for a Football Bowl Subdivision team in a game against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision ever.

The loss dropped UNT to 0-5 for the first time since the 2008 season and continued a rapid downhill slide following the Mean Green's Heart of Dallas Bowl win following the 2013 season.

UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal confirmed the school's decision to part ways with McCarney in a hastily called press conference that took the place of the Mean Green's regular postgame interview session.

"This football team has continued to struggle more and more each week in the last three or four weeks," Villarreal said. "It started at the beginning of the season. We are not in position where we are competitive really in any phase of the game."
After their nine-win season and bowl victory over UNLV a couple of seasons ago, I truly expected to see North Texas continue to improve. They had an excellent new facility in Apogee Stadium, Conference USA was a step up from the Sun Belt, they were located in the talent-rich DFW Metroplex and Dan McCarney had had some success at Iowa State. Instead of improving, the program has plummeted. The Mean Green went 4-8 last season, are winless halfway through this season, and as of right now  might very well be the worst FBS program in the nation; Sagarin ranks the Mean Green 195th out of 253 Divsion I football teams and dead last in the FBS.

Granted, Portland State is a good FCS team, having beaten the Pac-12's Washington State earlier in the year. But a 66-7 drubbing? Villareal did what he had to do to placate what's left of the UNT fanbase and to begin the search for somebody to right the ship.

McCarney finishes with a 22-32 record over four-and-a-half seasons at North Texas. Offensive coordinatior Dan Canales will reprise his role as interim head coach (he last led the team in 2010, after Todd Dodge was fired) for the rest of the 2015 season.

Houston 49, SMU 28

Last Thursday was a busy night for local sports, with the Texans playing the Colts at NRG Stadium, the Astros in a playoff game against the Royals and Kansas City, and the Coogs hosting the SMU Mustangs at TDECU Stadium. After getting off to a slow start - SMU actually led for much of the first half - the Cougars rattled off 35 unanswered points to notch their fifth win of the season.

The Good: After getting torched by SMU for much of the first half - the Cougar defense surrendered 287 yards and three TDs to SMU in the first 24 minutes of the game - the defense forced fumbles on the next two SMU drives. Both turnovers were converted into touchdowns to put the Coogs ahead for good, and the defense shut down SMU's offense in the second half. Houston focused on their ground attack in this game, running the ball 48 times, and all seven Cougar touchdowns were rushing scores (four by quarterback Greg Ward, Jr and three by running back Kenneth Farrow). Ward also completed 16 of 18 passes for 243 yards; he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in two games, but that hasn't mattered.

The Bad: Other than the slow start and a single Cougar fumble (which could probably have been ruled an incomplete pass instead), there really wasn't too much to be upset about. Except...

The Ugly: Three offensive linemen suffered injuries in this game; at least one, and probably two, are done for the season. Although it's suspicious for so many O-linemen to go down in a single game, there doesn't appear to be any definitive evidence that SMU's defense was intentionally trying to harm them so this is probably just a case of bad luck. Nevertheless, the offensive line is the weakest component of the UH offense and injuries like these are devastating.

What it means: With the win, the Cougars are 5-0 on the season and make their first appearance in the AP Top 25 since the 2011 season. 

Next up for the Coogs is a trip to New Orleans to play Tulane in another nationally-televised game Friday night.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Houston 38, Tulsa 24

The Coogs went on the road last Saturday and came back home with their first conference win of the season.

The Good: Quarterback Greg Ward, Jr had his best game of the year, accounting for an astounding 455 yards in total offense. He completed 22 of 38 passes for 273 yards and he also rushed 20 times for 182 yards and 3 touchdowns. This performance was enough to earn him a helmet sticker on ESPN's College Football Final as well as some Heisman-related love from FOX's Stewart Mandel. Running back Kenneth Farrow, meanwhile rushed 19 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns. The Cougar defense had five sacks, seven tackles for loss and forced two turnovers as they held the Golden Hurricane to their lowest point total of the season. Finally, the Cougars only had 3 penalties for the entire game.

The Bad: The Cougar offense was clearly not playing at its best. As good a game as Ward had, he could not find any receivers in the endzone. Receiver Stephen Dunbar fumbled a reception for Houston's only turnover. The Cougars failed to convert on fourth-down three times and were barely 50% on third-down conversions. Twice, the Cougars made it into Tulsa's red zone and came away with no points.

The Ugly: Special teams are going to cost the Cougars a game if they don't improve. Kyle Bullard missed two field goals, and punter Logan Piper put the Cougar defense in bad positions twice: once on a shanked 24yard punt, and once on an ill-advised fake punt attempt that was smothered by Tulsa. 

What it means: Once again, the Cougars play less-than-perfect football on the road but still manage to come up with a win. They are now 4-0.

Next up is a nationally-televised home game against SMU tomorrow night.

Astros shut out Yankees, advance to ALDS

Ever since I was a child, a dream of mine was that the Houston Astros would one day meet the New York Yankees in the World Series, and beat the crap out of them.

You see, I've always held a strong dislike for the Yankees. Part of that dislike is, admittedly, based on jealousy of their storied history. But that dislike is also based on their insufferably arrogant fanbase or the fact that the baseball world seems revolve around them, simply due to the city in which they are located: a perfect example of the Tyranny of New York.

For the lowly Astros to beat baseball's pre-eminent team? What a dream!

Okay, so last night's game wasn't the World Series - it was a one-game play-in between two wild card teams (an dubious addition MLB made to its postseason just a few years ago), and it occurred as a result of the Astros being moved from the National League to the American League (something I still dislike) - but it was still a postseason victory over the evil, hated Yankees. A shutout victory, no less. At Yankee Stadium.

So I guess my dream really did come true. In a sense.

For a team that hasn't been in the playoffs since their World Series appearance a decade ago, struggled not to lose 100 games a year ago, and that struggled to make the playoffs this year after a late-season slide that saw them lose 15 of 22 games at one point, winning this play-in game is a huge step forward.

Next up for the Astros is the Kansas City Royals in the American League Divisional Series.