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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Football

Victory over South Florida could propel Houston into national spotlight


The Cougars were on the cusp of being ranked earlier in the season, but a loss to the Red Raiders ended that. A win against South Florida would improve Houston’s standings and could put it back in the Top 25. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

In just three days, 6-1 Houston will have its biggest game of the season against undefeated South Florida at TDECU Stadium.

Ranked No. 21/20 by the Associated Press and Coaches Poll, respectively, the Bulls are the only team on the Cougars’ schedule that is ranked, and this gives Houston a chance at redemption in the national spotlight.

Earlier this season, Houston defeated Arizona on ABC and was thrashed by Texas Tech on FOX.  Since that loss, Houston has had to crawl back up into the spotlight, and the team is now on the edge of recognition as it faces USF on ABC.

Houston itself has received votes in both polls and could become ranked with a dominating win over South Florida.

One part of this possible redemption is erasing the stink around the defensive unit’s reputation. Houston’s defense has been a tale of two halves this season. At its best, the defense is a steady boat that gets where it needs to. At its worst, it is a leaky ship full of holes.

Fiona Legesse/The Cougar

When you look at the best half of each game against FBS opponents, Houston’s defense looks amazing. It allowed just 59 points in the best halves of each game or 9.8 points per half.  Remove the Tech loss and that number drops to 6.2 per half.

At its worst, the defense allowed 131 points in the other six halves of action, 21.8 points per half.

Some of this is due to putting in third- and fourth-string backups, but not all of it can be attributed to that since many of the team’s first halves have been worse than the second. Elite FBS teams cannot have such large drop offs since an injury or two is all it takes for the third-string backups to become starters.

Whatever the reasons for the defense’s Jekyll and Hyde personality, it needs to fix them for its upcoming game against South Florida.

Although the Bulls are undefeated and ranked, the team has been far from dominant. Four of its seven wins have been one-score games, including an eight-point win over 1-6 UConn and a one-point win against 1-6 Tulsa.

One thing the teams are both competing for is a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.

There are four at-large bids available this season, and there is a lot of competition.  Historically, only one Group of Five school gets to go to a New Year’s Six bowl, and UCF is currently the front runner for that spot.

If either team wants the spot, then it must win the American Athletic Conference Championship, which will likely be against UCF. If it wins and has two or more losses, then another one or two loss team, like Boise State, Utah State or No. 25 Appalachian State, takes the spot.

A strong defensive performance on national television would go a long way toward building Houston’s reputation as a worthy team for a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl and strengthening its chances in the American Athletic Conference.

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