Is it possible for a team outside of the Power 5 conferences to play its way into the College Football Playoff? The Houston Cougars will have the experts trying to answer this question all season long after they throttled Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon.
Make no mistake about it: this was an impressive win for the Cougars. Oklahoma returned 13 starters from last year’s squad that qualified for the College Football Playoff, including Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine. With all of that experience coming back this season, the Sooners were the heavy favorite to win the Big 12 and return to the postseason.
While both of those things could still happen this year, it’s clear that Houston is the better team. The Cougar front seven played like a championship unit, Baker Mayfield four times, and holding the vaunted OU ground game to just 77 yards on 30 carries. The offense was equally impressive, scoring points on all five first half possessions, while racking up 410 yards of total offense against a Sooner defense that ranked 15th nationally in yards per play last year.
In other words: Houston played extremely well on both sides of the ball against a legitimate Top 10 team.
Why is that important? Simply put: it proves that the Cougars belong in the College Football Playoff discussion. Sure, it’s only one game, but it showed exactly how good this Houston team really is. Early in the season, the defenses are usually a mile ahead of the offenses. Yet, Greg Ward and company moved the ball all afternoon long, routinely picking up first downs on third and long situations. If the offense can execute that well in the opening weekend of the season, it should be even better with a few more games under its belt.
In addition, this victory makes it possible for Houston to qualify for the playoff even if it loses a game. Remember, the Selection Committee must examine strength of schedule, head-to-head matchups, records versus common opponents, and championships won when picking the teams for the field. Since the Cougars beat the Sooners head-to-head, they’d almost certainly get in over them. They might also be able to move in front of Ohio State, if Oklahoma rebounds to beat the Buckeyes in week 3.
Of course, that situation assumes that Houston will lose a game in the regular season this year. Based on what we saw from the Cougars against the Sooners, it seems highly unlikely that the team will stub its toe in AAC play like it did last season.