BY MATT CRAIG | Chirp City Founder & Director of Content
Rooting for underdogs is as American as wearing blue jeans or eating too much McDonald’s.
And after Houston’s impressive 33-23 win over No. 3 Oklahoma on the first college football Saturday of the year, I understand how tempting it is to jump on the Houston bandwagon and root for a mid-major program to reach the College Football Playoff.
Look, I get it. We all watched as teams like 2006 Boise State and 2008 Utah played nearly flawless seasons only to be excluded from the big game at the end of the year. They probably deserved the chance.
But honestly, I’m glad they didn’t get it.
College football is a funny game, in that teams only get a dozen or so games to prove how good they are, and of those only three or four are against teams competitive enough to test them.
As a result, climbing up the ranks is usually less about who is the better team and more about who screws up fewer times in each individual game or gets lucky enough times to survive (see: State, 2014 Florida).
So as an unbiased fan of college football, what I really want to see—and you should too—is as many instances of the best teams facing each other for the highest stakes possible.
Think about the greatest college football game of our lifetimes.
If I could get you to detach yourself from whatever fanbase you’re a part of, the answer would almost unanimously be the 2006 Rose Bowl between USC and Texas.
The 2006 national championship game had a combined 49 players who would go on to play in the NFL, 15 of which were playing in their final college game before being drafted a few months later. Of those 15, four were taken in the top 10.
The result was one of the most incredible collegiate athletic competitions I’ve ever watched, with drama coming down to the final seconds.
Matchups such as these produce peak college football. Would you rather watch this, or the 2013 Orange Bowl when Florida State dominated Northern Illinois?
Don’t get me wrong, Houston is a really likable team. Tom Herman could be one of the best coaches in the country, quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is a lightning rod, and the defense is strong and swarming.
But Houston is far from a Cinderella story.
They don’t even fit the profile of a mid-major darling clawing its way to the top by force of will and camaraderie.
Your average mid-major darling doesn’t have the benefit of being located in one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the country. Your average darling doesn’t get a starting running back who transferred from Texas, or go 13-1 with a Peach Bowl victory over Florida State like Houston did last year.
Your average lovable mid-major definitely doesn’t land Ed Oliver. Oliver was the first five-star recruit ever to sign with a school outside of the power five conferences. The defensive tackle was the fourth best recruit in the nation coming out of high school, turning down offers from Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and (insert your favorite powerhouse program here). The guy looks like if a grizzly bear was raised on a steady diet of steroids.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, a mid-major Cinderella we root for ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT get their jersey rocked on stage by Drake.
— Toyota Center (@ToyotaCenter) September 4, 2016
When Drake hops on the bandwagon, it’s time for me to hop off.
All of this to say, Houston is less “little engine that could” and more “medium-sized engine that kinda can.”
But they’re obviously far from an annual powerhouse. As a program, they probably sit somewhere in the mid-pack of a power five conference, hanging out with teams like Arkansas or Iowa.
As a team they seem to be much better than that, but I don’t think anyone would be crazy enough to predict that they would be able to run the gauntlet of the SEC or PAC 12 and emerge as a playoff qualifier.
However they are not in a power five, they’re in the American Athletic Conference. The rest of their schedule consists of teams like Texas State and Tulane, with November 17th’s matchup against Louisville seeming like the only obstacle in a potential perfect season.
Would you root for Arkansas or Iowa as a neutral observer? Of course not. So don’t root for Houston just because they are posing as underdogs.
The hype train has already started up, and the ESPN talking heads have already started raising their voices in defense of the Houston Cougars. They have just enough swagger (the swaying on the sideline thing is awesome tbh), just enough star-power, and play just exciting enough of a brand of football that I’m worried. It seems like a perfect College Football Playoff recipe.
The only hope to stop them? The College Football Playoff selection committee, consisting of a handful of athletic directors and Condoleezza Rice. I’m not joking. Condoleezza Rice is the woman with the power to give you the viewer the 2006 Rose Bowl, or the 2013 Orange Bowl.
In my eyes, it may be the most important decision of her life.