In what seems like a lifetime ago, the University of Houston was among the most talked about football programs outside the Power Five establishment.
The University of Houston, celebrating a sack against Tulane, would like to have more to cheer about against BYU on Friday.
Four years ago, the Cougars were coming off a 13-1 season and New Year’s Six bowl appearance and seemed destined for a long run as the top Group of Five program. There was the brief flirtation with the Big 12, followed by two of the biggest wins in school history against Oklahoma and Louisville, both No. 3 at the time, during the 2016 season.
It was a memorable two-year stretch.
It was short-lived. Things have not been the same since.
After two seasons as head coach, Tom Herman left in a hurry for Texas. Major Applewhite lasted only two mediocre seasons.
A chance to finally get a signature win under second-year head coach Dana Holgorsen will come Friday night when the Cougars play No. 14 BYU at TDECU Stadium.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to show what we’ve got and put Houston back on the map,” wide receiver Keith Corbin said.
The journey the last three years has left UH wandering the boondocks of college football. They haven’t been back to the American Athletic Conference championship game since 2015. A run of six straight seasons in mostly middle-tier postseason bowl games ended last year. In the annual pursuit for a lucrative bowl, UH has been passed by Central Florida, Memphis, Cincinnati and SMU, among others, in the Group of Five pecking order.
After going 4-8 last season, Holgorsen can see progress.
Exhibit A: the Cougars remain a destination for some of the top high school prospects and onetime national recruits at Power Five programs eager to come home.
Exhibit B: The Cougars staged a 17-point comeback to beat Tulane 49-31 in last week’s season opener, the first encouraging sign in a season that had delivered bad news on a weekly basis with five September games called off due to COVID-19 issues.
UH is receiving votes in the most recent Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls. A win over BYU – rarely challenged during a 4-0 start – would at least toss UH back into the national discussion and add another contender to what is expected to be a wild AAC race.
“It can either make you or it can’t,” Corbin said. “Hopefully this game can get this program back to what it used to be in 2016. I feel we are ready for the challenge and ready to put on a show.”
For that to happen the Cougars must end a streak of seven straight losses against Top 25 opponents dating to the end of the 2018 season, six of those coming during a brutal schedule a year ago. Since beating Louisville late in 2016, UH has just two wins over a ranked