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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Football

Season in Review: Cougars brave turbulence only to face more uncertainty


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The Cougars’ 2016 season will be marked by great achievements, but also crippling defeats. | Navid Parsa/The Cougar

It was an interesting 2016 campaign for Cougar football team, to say the least. In a year of the highest of highs and lowest of lows, the team finished the regular season with a record of 9-3.

The Cougars began the season with aspirations of a spot in the College Football Playoff after defeating the No. 3 ranked University of Oklahoma Sooners 33-23 in the season’s opening weekend.

After beating Lamar University, the Cougars faced their next test in the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. The game hung in the balance entering the fourth quarter, but the Cougars prevailed after outscoring the Bearcats in the fourth quarter by 22 points.

The Cougars reeled off two more blowouts against the Texas State University Bobcats and the University of Connecticut Huskies to reach a 5-0 record. They then claimed the No. 6 on the national rankings for many weeks in a row.

Week six presented a unique matchup for the Cougars in a meeting with the 4-1 Naval Academy Midshipmen. A 20-20 halftime score was a bit surprising, but a win was still possible.

That wasn’t the case after the end of the third quarter. A comeback seemed unlikely when the Cougars were down 27-41. The team went on to lose 40-46.

Their hopes at the College Football Playoff were all but gone. An American Athletic Conference Championship and a New Year’s Six bowl game, however, still seemed obtainable.

After a 38-31 win against the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane, which ended with the Cougars stopping their opponents at the one-yard line as time expired, the team traveled up Interstate 45 to face the Southern Methodist University Mustangs.

SMU came to play, but the Cougars looked uninterested. They were absolutely demolished, 16-38.

The Cougars’ hopes of a top-tier bowl were over with a loss to the lowly Mustangs. The defeat took the team from the No. 11 ranking in the nation to completely out of the top 25.

The next week, the Cougars appeared to accept mediocrity after being down 3-24 to the University of Central Florida Golden Knights early in the third quarter.

The Cougars rallied and put up four consecutive touchdowns to carry out a 31-24 comeback victory. More importantly, it showed that the team weren’t done fighting even when they might have been against the ropes.

A bye week followed by a solid 30-18 victory against Tulane University Green Wave set up the Cougars’ biggest test of the season: a game against the No. 5 ranked University of Louisville Cardinals.

A 36-10 victory gave the Cougars their second win against a top-5 ranked team this season. It also left a bunch of what-ifs in the minds of players, coaches and fans on this game’s magnitude — had the Cougars only been a one-loss team.

The impressive win put head coach Tom Herman into the national spotlight as the top candidate to fill an eventual coaching vacancy at either Louisiana State University or the University of Texas.

Rumors continued to circulate all through the week — even on Thanksgiving — a day before the Cougars’ final game of the season against the University of Memphis.

The Cougars were defeated 44-48. They also lost their head coach just hours later.

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was promoted to interim head coach for the team’s eventual bowl game.

The Cougars’ mental and physical fortitude will be tested when they play in their respective bowl game. It will be interesting to see what adjustments have been made and how much will to win is present after the coaching change.

The Cougars have been no stranger to adversity in the 2016 season. The team can expect some more later this month in their final game.

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