[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by hardcore UH fan Kelvin Yamaguchi]
When you think of Houston Cougar football, what typically comes to mind is high scoring, yard churning, record breaking offenses. The main cog in any offense is the Quarterback, and the University of Houston has produced some great ones. From 1989 with the Run & Shoot where Andre Ware threw for 46 Touchdowns while also leading the Southwest Conference in every major passing category, beating I-45 rival SMU 95-21. Ware would lead the Coogs to a 9-2 record helped him earn the Heisman Trophy and Davy O’Brien Award. Not to be outdone in the following season, Quarterback David Klingler wanted his own place in Cougar Lore. Klingler set NCAA records for Passing Touchdowns in a single game (11) and most yards gained in a single game (716), which still stand today.
When Klingler left in 1991 for the NFL draft, it signaled the downward trend that would lead to some of the darkest times in Cougar football history. For the remainder of their SWC membership from ’92-’95, the Coogs would post a record of 8-35-1. Things started to look up during the Coog’s first season in C-USA. Quarterback Chuck Clements led the Coogs to a 7-5 record and were crowned C-USA co-champions with Southern Miss in 1996. The Cougars went on to play a Donovan McNabb led Syracuse Orangemen team in the Liberty Bowl where the Coogs fell 30-17. Just when things were starting to improve, the dreams of the SWC glory days turned into a nightmare for the Cougar faithful. From 1997-2002, the Coogs went 21-46 and posted only one winning season (7-4 in 1999 with wins at LSU and North Carolina). The Coogs hit rock bottom in 2001 with an 0-11 record.
The football team was at the lowest it’s ever been in program history due to having not reached a bowl game since 1996, consecutive losing seasons, having ties severed with local high school coaches (due to recruiting decisions from previous head coaches), and fan attendance was at an all-time low. The Athletic Director at the time, Dave Maggard searched high and low until he found the right man to restore pride and winning traditions back into UH football. Enter two key pieces to the revival of Houston Cougar football: Art Briles and Kevin Kolb. During Brile’s and Kolb’s first season in 2003, Houston went 7-5, reaching their first bowl game since 1996 and going to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl to play the Hawaii Warriors. After a thrilling 3 OT game the Coogs ended up falling 54-48 to the Warriors. It started to look like Houston was returning to form. In 2006, which was Kolb’s final season with UH, Houston finally reached the CUSA Championship against Southern Miss, where the Cougars captured a conference championship in 10 years, winning 34-20 before a sold-out Robertson Stadium crowd of 34,413! After falling to South Carolina in the Liberty Bowl the Coogs finished 10-4, its first double digit win season since 1990. Kolb finished his career at UH with 12,964 passing yards, and 26 wins (Kolb had more wins in his career than UH did from 1997-2002).
Briles departed for Baylor after the 2007 season and Kevin Sumlin arrived as the 11th head coach in UH football history. After a heated battle going into the first game of the 2008 season of who would start at Quarterback between Blake Joseph and Case Keenum. Keenum secured the starting job two weeks before the first game of the season. Keenum led the Coogs to an 7-5 record after a 1-3 start to secure a spot for a rematch against the Air Force Falcons, who they had played earlier in the season, in the Armed Forces Bowl. After a close back and forth match the Coogs pulled out in a 34-28 win. The Cougars had earned their first bowl victory since 1980 in the Garden State Bowl against Navy.
Riding high on their bowl win, the following season Houston went to Stillwater to face the 5th ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and emerged victorious 45-35, marking their first victory over a top-10 ranked opponent in over 21 years. In the following weeks UH played yet another Big 12 foe, Texas Tech. In front of an electric sold-out crowd, Houston emerged victorious over their old SWC foe 29-28. Along with a victory over SEC’s Mississippi State, Houston would be ranked as high as #12 in the nation before finishing the season 10-2. Once again reaching another C-USA Championship to play East Carolina. The Pirates crushed the Coog’s championship dreams and put Houston back in the Armed Forces Bowl to face Air Force again. This time Air Force crushed Houston 47-20.
After being injured in the 3rd game of the 2010 season against UCLA, Keenum would miss the rest of the season and the Coogs fell to a disappointing 5-7 season. With Keenum being granted a rare 6th year from the NCAA, Houston faced Pac-12 opponent UCLA again in the season opener. After keeping the Bruins at bay with a 38-34 victory to open the season Houston would go 12-0 with Keenum shattering multiple Offensive records. The Coog’s success was evident when ESPN’s College Gameday came to UH when the Coog’s faced SMU in the last home game of the regular season. Houston rose to #6 in the nation with projections to bust the BCS and face Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. However UH had to get past #22 Southern Miss in the C-USA championship game… Houston laid an egg. Houston fell to Southern Miss 49-28 and immediately after the loss, Kevin Sumlin departed for Texas A&M. However Houston rebounded in the TicketCity Bowl against Penn St. and won 30-14.
That bowl win started the Tony Levine era. The start of the 2012 season came with a shocking defeat at the hands of the Texas State Bobcats and it didn’t get much better from there. Quarterbacks David Piland and Crawford Jones would lead the Coogs to a 5-7 record in Robertson Stadium’s final season. Some of the worst defeats in UH history came during Levine’s tenure and the most disappointing of all probably came on August 29th, 2014. The first game in the brand new TDECU Stadium. Hopes were high after a promising 2013 season, the AAC Rookie of the Year winner John O’Korn was coming back as a sophomore after leading the Coogs to an 8-5 record and breaking Kevin Kolb’s Freshman Passing Touchdown Record with 28 touchdowns. However, the offense couldn’t get anything going with O’Korn throwing 4 interceptions and 0 touchdowns against the UTSA Roadrunners. After that game, there wasn’t another sellout for the rest of the season and O’Korn lost his starting job to Greg Ward Jr. during the UCF game, which led to O’Korn transferring to Michigan in the spring. Levine had officially lost the fan base which led to his dismissal in December.
Enter the Broyles Award winner Tom Herman as the new head coach of Houston. Herman has been nicknamed the “QB Whisperer” for his success with Quarterbacks. This is especially evident this past season where he helped coach Ohio State to win the National Championship after injuries forced the Buckeyes to rely on their 3rd string Quarterback. With kickoff right around the corner and no clear starter being named, whoever ends up the starting Quarterback will have a task that no Quarterback has accomplished since Kolb during the 2006 season: Win the Conference Championship.
PS: Check out this video clip on Houston QB’s from ESPN.