UH Strives for Perfection as Rice Struggles to Stay Close

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The Houston Cougars SID office sent the media an e-mail on Wednesday morning. An e-mail warning that Houston athletes are prohibited by NCAA rules from promoting outside media events and individual media outlets, including specific shows and stations. And this is the first time since I've been covering the Cougars that the SID office has felt the need to send out such a reminder to the media.

There are two ways to look at this. There's the positive view. The view that it's about damn time the Houston media actually started paying as much attention to the Cougars as they do to the schools in Austin and College Station. So what if they're a few years too late to jump on the bandwagon? They're here now, and they're welcome. The negative view is that, if they've finally decided to join those of us who have been around, then they can bother to learn and live by the same damn rules as the rest of us. The Cougars, after all, aren't those schools in Austin and College Station.

As the Cougars (6-0) attract the national media's attention, this is something that the school, the administration, the players and the compliance department, especially the compliance department, are going to have to learn to deal with. That's good news as the Cougars are becoming national news, and they're becoming national news for good reasons: They're winning football games, they're climbing up the BCS rankings and they're on the verge of joining the Big East, a conference based out of the media capital of the U.S.

But as they enter this national conversation, the players need to forget about that. They need to forget about the bandwagon local media showing up. They have to push aside the realignment talk. They have to ignore the rankings. They have to focus on playing football.

"It's better that I talk to them about it than everybody else," head coach Kevin Sumlin said on Tuesday. "I'm not so naive to think that everybody else isn't trying to tell them how good they are and patting them on the back. Our guys understand where they are.
I get the sense from our team and our coaches that our guys are flattered by it but not impressed, and I think they still feel like there are a lot of things out there for them to accomplish. We are at the midway point of our season. We tell them that they have 12 guaranteed opportunities to play, and you earn the right for 13 and 14. Our guys are very focused on the fact that we are still trying to earn 14 football games."

The Cougars have partially dealt with this media attention before. It was just two years ago that they flew into UTEP to take on a bad Miners team after huge wins over nationally ranked teams Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The Coogs were undefeated, soaring high up the rankings, and running the table and getting into a BCS bowl game was the talk of the city. But just one problem for the team: They had trouble with their focus in that game and they lost. So as the Cougars prepare to host 3-4 Marshall at Robertson Stadium in the UH homecoming game Saturday afternoon, it's understandable if UH fans are a bit worried about any distractions.

As if with UTEP two years ago, the Cougars shouldn't have too many problems with the Thundering Herd. Sure, Marshall has defeated Louisville of the Big East, and they upset C-USA East Division power Southern Mississippi. But they struggled to defeat Rice last week, and their offense is perhaps the worst offense in college football -- an argument can be made that Memphis is worse. The Herd rank 114th in the country in total offense, 115th in scoring offense and they rank 117th nationally in time of possession.

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Yeah, that offense is so bad that it probably won't even be possible for Marshall to find an obscure player capable of becoming a sudden superstar against the UH defense. Though the UH offense should beware as Marshall does have a decent defense that features three players who have been the C-USA defensive player of the game, including last week's defensive player of the week, Vinny Curry, who is also a candidate for the Bronko Nagurski award, which goes nationally to the country's best defensive player.

The Rice Owls (2-4) wish they had the problems of the Houston Cougars. The problems of realignment, rankings, the BCS. Like their neighbors, they're trying to upgrade their stadium. But the stadium upgrade is the least of the team's issues at this moment. Right now, their biggest concern is Saturday night's game versus the 3-3 Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Don't let that Tulsa record fool you because, unlike some C-USA teams, Tulsa's played a tough non-conference schedule that's featured games (and losses) to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State.

Along with their normal problems with scoring on offense and keeping opposing teams from scoring on defense, the Owls are also seeing their injury problems pile up. Quarterback Taylor McHargue suffered a concussion against Marshall last week, and it's hoped he can return this week. And while head coach David Bailiff claims the team is better than it was last year, there are still worries with the team pressing, much as happened last season.

"It starts with me. It starts with me identifying it," Bailiff said on Monday. "We just have to continue, when we get into those situations, on the sideline continuing to talk to them about how we have to have fun, got to treat it like you are in the backyard. You don't have to do anything outside the scheme. It's where your fundamentals and technique have to come in and to trust [them]. Even defensively at that point, to stay within your scheme and do your 1/11th, then go help. You can't decide at that point you have to make every tackle to win this game. You have to keep trusting what we're doing and trusting your teammates."

The Owls can't press against Tulsa. They've just got to play football, cut back on mistakes and hope to stay close. But staying close probably won't get the win, not against a much better football team. As for the Cougars, if they're playing a close game against Marshall on Saturday, they're doing something wrong. Something very wrong.


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