Things are going to get much darker for the Houston Cougars

HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 24: Head coach Dana Holgorsen of the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium on September 24, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 24: Head coach Dana Holgorsen of the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium on September 24, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The Houston Cougars are now 1-2 after suffering a convincing loss to TCU at home. Just how bad are they, and just how worse could they get?

Week 3 of this college football season was certainly one to remember, as it gave us many nail-biting games that virtually no one saw coming.

Said games include ones like Florida State-Boston College, Alabama-USF, Colorado State-Colorado, Wake Forest-Old Dominion, Kansas-Nevada—and those are ones where the expected victors prevailed. There were also several matchups that resulted in full-on upsets we had no business witnessing, such as Tennessee-Florida, Kansas State-Missouri, South Alabama-Oklahoma State, and Sacramento State-Stanford. In short, it was quite a chaotic week for college football fans nationwide.

However, I do recall the outcome of one conference game that failed to thrill me, and for all the wrong reasons: TCU at Houston.

With the TCU Horned Frogs and Houston Cougars both entering Week 3 with 1-1 records obtained through meaningless wins and inexcusable losses, the idea of their showdown being relatively easy to overlook doesn’t come off as particularly surprising. That doesn’t mean that either team wouldn’t greatly benefit from winning it though, begging the question of which one would benefit more?

Some might make a case for TCU, and I can understand, as the Frogs have so far failed to adequately succeed their last run (that concluded with a national title appearance), likely increasing their desire to bring the hammer down. And yet, I cannot help but feel that Houston still manages to get the nod.

For starters, if we want to talk about whatever precedents TCU has set, we can certainly do the same for the Cougars, as they’ve won 35 games in their last five seasons, just one less than the Frogs.

The second part is what puts the talk to rest though, and that is the fact that the Cougs have an additional obligation to display early success, as 2023 is their first year as a Power 5 team—something that struggling with UTSA and losing to Rice didn’t help with even remotely.

The Houston Cougars were above those kinds of performances back when they were in the AAC, so I don’t doubt that they would enter their league opener as part of the Big 12 all the more desperate to send a respectable message.

Despite TCU’s aforementioned imperfections, getting a home win over the Frogs would have at least been a good start to doing so, but unfortunately, it only took an ugly half of the game for any plans involving that to fall through.

A second-half shutout dealt the Houston Cougars another distressing loss

At halftime, the Horned Frogs and Cougars were in the middle of a rather tight affair, with the former only leading 20-13. The final in no way implied that level of competitiveness, however, as the Cougs would go on to get outscored 16-0 in the second half, subsequently losing by 23 and falling to 1-2 on the season. Not the best way to kick off your new era, especially when it’s happening on your own turf.

Now some who are more familiar with the Houston Cougars program may not see justification for entering panic mode just yet, as this is their second consecutive run (and fourth in the last 10 seasons) to start 1-2.

Especially if 2022’s squad going on to win eight games is any implication, there’s clearly still an avenue for 2023’s to have a relatively decent stretch of its own. But, I remain unconvinced for a reason that has hovered around the entirety of today’s subject matter up to this point: Houston’s not in the Group of 5 anymore.

Yes, the Cougs ended up turning an unflattering 1-2 start (which involved squeaking by UTSA and losing to a pair of Big 12 teams) into an 8-5 finish last year, but that was with a schedule filled to the neck with American—A.K.A. Group of 5, A.K.A. little guy—competition.

With how they sit currently, they’re still not beyond struggling with GO5 opposition and getting shot down by the Big 12. This is in spite of them now having a multitude of more dangerous meetings lined up for the coming months, such as @ Texas Tech (the Red Raiders have won five games straight over the Cougs, including one in both 2021 and 2022), West Virginia, Texas, @ Kansas State and @ Baylor—and that’s just the Power 5 vets.

Beyond those games, they have a couple of more red flags on their calendar thanks to fellow AAC heroes Cincinnati and UCF. While the Cougars should be more comfortable with them, both the Bearcats and Knights are unbeaten against them since 2016 and currently have records superior to theirs.

Also, Cincy will be facing Houston after the latter endures a month’s worth of brutal matchups and UCF will have its jarring home-field advantage. Yikes.

Next. Biggest winners and losers from College Football Week 3. dark

In short, the Houston Cougars may now have Power 5 badges on their jerseys, but they remain a Group of 5 team on the field. Seeing their flaws as they entered what we know is their first Big 12 season prevents that realization from being a total shock, yet it nonetheless raises some frightening questions about how the remainder of their 2023 campaign can (and perhaps will) treat them.