Kelvin Sampson Begins The Biggest Challenge Of His Career

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John Royal
Kelvin Sampson watches his team in action last week against Morgan State
An SI.com writer was at Hofheinz Pavilion Saturday night working on a story on new Cougar head coach Kelvin Sampson. He stood in one of the bunkers ringing the top of the arena, looking out over the mostly empty stands. He asked when the crowd was going to show up. Those of us in the local media standing next to him just shook our heads and said he was looking at the crowd, that this was the best it was going to get.

The Cougars won the game, defeating a winless Morgan State program by a 72-57 score. It was only the second game of the season for Houston, and it looked it. The Cougars only shot 32.9 percent from the floor (going only eight for 32 in the second half). When the players were missing badly with shots, they were turning it over with an ease not seen since Matt Schaub suited up for the Texans (23 turnovers for the game). And the free-throw shooting brought back memories of Phi Slama Jama, an era back when the inability to hit free throws probably cost the team a NCAA title.

It was an ugly game to watch. It was an ugly win. But the team pushed the ball up the court at a quick pace and pulled down 60 rebounds, a rebounding figure not seen from a UH basketball team since 1995.

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2014 Thanksgiving Day Football Gorging Guide

Flickr/Toby Jagmohan
This is going to sound a little strange, but there's a small part of me that was always jealous of the old bedridden grandparents in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

I mean, sure, they were all pushing 80 and sharing a full size double bed with three other octogenarians. And yes, their entire diet appeared to consist of some sort of rancid cabbage water. And I would imagine if they were unable to get up period, then that means they were unable to get up to go to the bathroom, so yeah...rancid.

(Also, why was everyone cool with Grandpa Joe buying tobacco when the family clearly had no money? I mean, they're all drinking cabbage piss and he's noshing on some Red Man and smoking a pipe. What a dick, right? Anyway...)

Still, there's something to be said for being allowed to just lay horizontal all day and watch television with no fear of reprisal. And for one day a year, America gets to do this exact thing with unbridled sloth and joy (and WAY more food).

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College Football Playoff Rankings v 5.0: Cut, Paste, Repeat

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We are on the cusp of a massive weekend of college football, a weekend where traditional rivalries shape the months of December and January, and they do so with the added bonus of massive amounts of food consumed over a 72 hour period.

It truly is glorious.

One price that we pay, though, for Rivalry/Thanksgiving Weekend football is the snoozefest the week before, where relevant teams are playing tune up games, including half the SEC staging a de facto jamboree with FCS schools. The only good things about the Snoozefest Appetizer Weekend are:

1. I can actually attend a wedding on a Saturday night and not feel any "I'm missing football!" animosity toward the bride and groom. (NOTE: I had a wedding to go to Saturday, and had a fine evening. Thank you, Jessica and Gabriel!)

2. I can basically cut and paste the top half of the rankings from last week, so...time saver!!

Here are the fifth iteration of the College Football Playoff rankings, along with thoughts.

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Rockets Recap: Team Defense Keeping Rockets on Winning Track Despite Injuries

Categories: Basketball, Sports

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Holding it together while short handed.
Record Since Last Recap: 2-1
MVP Since Last Recap: James Harden
Best Win Last Week: Mavericks
Toughest Loss Last Week: Lakers
Current Record: 11-3

On Saturday night, there was a sequence of plays that represented the antithesis of what people thought about James Harden's defense last season. Not only was he effective, it was his tenaciousness on the opponent's end of the floor that won them the game. Before the season started, Harden and the Rockets were adamant they were going to be better defensively. Certainly the addition of Trevor Ariza helped, but no one expected a renewed commitment to defense would take them from one of the worst in the NBA to one of the best in one year. Yet, that's what happened and much of it is owed to the change in Harden.

No, his defense alone is not enough to elevate the entire team, but his added hustle combined with his readily apparent leadership on the court is. On Monday night before their win over the New York Knicks, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander presented Harden with the gold medal he earned as a member of Team USA in the offseason, which he led in scoring. Harden has frequently cited being around that team as his reason for an invigorated defense and desire to lead his team. Whatever they told him worked because he has rapidly become one of the best guards in the game.

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Ryan Mallett Out For The Season With Torn Pectoral Muscle

Categories: Game Time, Sports

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Photo by Groovehouse
Last Friday, talk around Houston in football circles was happy. It was optimistic. It was about opportunity.

At 5-5, you beat the Bengals at NRG Stadium on Sunday (something the Texans had gotten good at during the Andy Dalton Era, going 2-0 in two home playoff games) and now you're looking at back-to-back games against the Titans and the Jaguars, a gateway to 8-5.

That was the narrative. 8-5 would put the Texans firmly in the playoff hunt, and theoretically do so with a quarterback with a big league arm who would be 4-0 as a starter at that point, confident and poised. The world would be Ryan Mallett's NFL oyster.

(This is where the "vinyl record scratching" sound would be made on television, jarring us back into reality.)

Unfortunately, none of that is happening. This afternoon, the Texans learned that Ryan Mallett's torn pectoral muscle, which was reported last night after the game, an injury he played the entire Cincinnati game with, will end his 2014 season. He will have surgery and be placed on injured reserve.

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Bengals 22, Texans 13: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

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Photo by Groovehouse
At this stage of the season, there are two different flavors of .500 (or around .500) football teams in the NFL.

There are the kind who have played hard schedules, have good quarterbacks, and have enough solutions on the roster to eventually win the 9, 10, or 11 games they need in order to make the postseason. Think San Francisco, Seattle, maybe New Orleans.

Then there are the kind who are still shuffling quarterbacks, getting contributions from a disproportionally small segment of the roster, and are basically a play here or a play there away from all of it falling apart. These types of .500 teams are generally held together with chicken wire, toothpaste, and J.J. Watt.

Yes, the Texans are the latter type. They proved that yesterday against the Bengals and showed the city of Houston just how fleeting relevance can be when your roster lacks any depth.

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UH And Rice Survive The Weekend Weather And Prepare To Go Bowling

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John Royal
What if they threw a football game and no one came?
TDECU Stadium was lifeless on Saturday morning. Perhaps it was the 11:00 kickoff (originally scheduled to kick-off at 2:00 and moved up by the threat of bad weather). Maybe it was the grey, dismal, overcast sky. Maybe it was the stadium that looked to be two-thirds empty. Maybe it was just that the uninspiring Houston Cougars were hosting a two-win Tulsa Golden Hurricane team. Whatever the cause, the quiet atmosphere was not aided by the Cougars struggling to defeat Tulsa 38-28.

The Cougars (6-4) secured a bowl berth with the win, but there didn't appear to be much joy afterwards with the thought. Head coach Tony Levine was more thrilled by the idea of more practice for his young players than he was with his team going to a bowl. The players were more concerned with hopefully improving the bowl game for which they'll be practicing. And seeing how the team struggled to put away an awful (2-9) Tulsa team, the concern should be less on bowl games and more about not losing to a winless SMU team on Friday.

"In the past seven years that I've been here, we averaged 10 freshmen [with playing time] every year," Levine said. "This year we're playing four. What that tells you is that we're starting to get the depth that we need, and by extending our season and playing into the end of December or early January, you get 15-18 more practice opportunities for these young guys."

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Texans Regress in Loss to Bengals at NRG Stadium

Categories: Football, Sports

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Photo by Groovehouse
A.J. Green torched the Texans all day long on Sunday.
Oh, what a difference a week makes. Last Sunday, the Texans went into Ohio and whopped up on a Cleveland team with a new quarterback and a second string running back. This Sunday, another team from Ohio walked into NRG Stadium and put it to the Texans with essentially the same lineup, 23-13.

Many of the things that went so well in Cleveland failed the Texans miserably against the Bengals. Quarterback Ryan Mallett, who won praise from coaches, teammates and fans for his first game at the helm, struggled mightily with accuracy, perhaps due to a pectoral injury revealed after the game that could keep him out for several weeks. Alfred Blue, so effective last week replacing the injured Arian Foster, was stuffed by a Cincinnati defense that came in ranked 28th in the league.

In fact, the offense was so bad that it scored fewer points than the defense. It was only able to manage two field goals. Mallett had a particularly tough day going for 189 yards, many of those after the game was no longer in question, and one interception with no touchdowns. After the game, it was reported that Mallett was in treatment for quite some time after the game for an injured pectoral muscle, literally adding injury to insult.

The loss, while not mathematically knocking the Texans out of the playoff race, almost certainly ends the team's chances for the postseason. To make matters worse, there will be little opportunity for the Texans to evaluate Mallett if he is indeed out for several weeks and their record probably keeps them out of contention for one of the better quarterbacks in what could be a rather weak draft at the position. So, business as usual on Kirby.

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Houston Texans: Your Definitive Week 12 Rooting Guide

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As a society, we've never been more advanced in the functionality we have at our fingertips. Unfortunately, that functionality (which is 98 percent a result of having an app for nearly EVERYTHING on our phones) has made us a little lazy.

As one example, Jimmy John's latest ad campaign touts how quickly they can deliver us a sandwich by pressing a button on our phones, for God's sakes! I do not want to leave this chair for my processed meats and gobs of mayonnaise...BRING IT TO ME!! Hell, even Starbuck's is catering to the craze, promising us that soon they will be able to deliver their overpriced swill right to your office (to those of you who think calling a small "Venti" somehow makes you sophisticated).

We've gone from a microwave society, where we wanted to be able to procure everything in life ourselves just way faster, to a "serve me" society, where we want everyone else to do the work for us and, oh by the way, "bring it to me"! This chair is too comfortable to leave!

Honestly, you people disgust me. (I was looking in the mirror when I typed that, to be clear.) And yet, I want to help you. That means YOU, Texan fans!

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College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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Parker Anderson via Flickr
Normally, this is the portion of the Best Bets post where I complain (or, even on a rare occasion, brag) about how I did the week before.

But this week, no complaining and no bragging, and that's for two reasons.

First, I went 3-3 for a second week in a row, so I'm settling into that meaty part of the curve where there's nothing really compelling about how I'm picking games right now. I'm just kind of muddling along at .500 and hoping for the best. (Appropriate that I live in Houston, I suppose!)

Second, this gives me a chance to embed the video of Marcus Luttrell's pep talk to Alabama in this space. Luttrell, of course, is the Navy SEAL who was the subject of the movie Lone Survivor.

Guaranteed, you will feel like a total zero for ever complaining about anything after watching this video....

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