The Houston Cougars overcame some costly mistakes to defeat the Cincinnati Bearcats 40-16, and proved that they’re a College Football Playoff contender.

Make no mistake about it: this contest was much closer than the final score would indicate. Sure, Houston moved the ball at will against the Cincinnati defense, but it also turned the ball over three times. The final turnover – an interception in the end zone – was especially troubling, because it not only killed a Houston scoring drive, but it fired up the Bearcat sideline. Five plays after that costly pick, Cincinnati took a 16-12 lead and looked like it was in control of the game.

It was all Houston after that. Immediately after it stopped the Bearcats on the two-point conversion, Houston marched 71 yards on nine plays to regain the lead. The defense would take over the game from there, forcing interceptions on Cincinnati’s next three possessions, with the final two resulting in pick sixes to break the game wide open.

So, what does this victory mean in the grand scheme of things?

Simply put: it proves that Houston is a College Football Playoff contender. Even though the game was close for most of the evening, it’s hard not to be impressed with what we saw out of the Cougars. Although Greg Ward wasn’t 100%, he still had a solid outing, completing 24 of 36 passes for 326 yards, while rushing for 73 yards and two touchdowns. He was especially impressive when Houston fell behind, connecting with Linell Bonner on a 26-yard completion on third and five to keep the drive alive, and allow the team to take the lead for good.

If he’s resilient enough to overcome two picks with an effort like that without being at full strength, imagine what he could do when he’s completely healthy.

As well as Ward played, it’s the Cougar defense that stole the show. The front seven dominated the line of scrimmage all night long, holding the Bearcats to just 30 yards rushing on 25 attempts. And, when the game was on the line, the Houston D responded with the poise of a champion, holding the Bearcats to just 65 yards and four first downs in the final 15 minutes of the contest, while producing three key turnovers to seal the win.

Despite these solid showings, some people will argue that Houston didn’t look like a championship caliber team tonight because of all the miscues this evening. Yet, it’s worth noting that both teams played this contest on just five days rest. With such a short period of time between games, players are going to make mistakes. That happens at both the college and NFL level on Thursday night games.

Short rest or not, the Cougars were able to overcome their errors and win the game on the road against a very good team. While that may not carry all of the “style points” that experts expect to see every weekend, it’s definitely a quality of a championship caliber football team.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.