Not even a midday downpour could spoil the Third Ward party. Nostalgia filled the air as the Houston hosted long-lost Southwest Conference foe, TCU, in the Cougars’ first ever game as a Big 12 program. The two teams played each other every season from 1976, when Houston officially joined the SWC as a football program, through 1995 when TCU and the Cougars were left out of the original Big 12.
Houston (1-2) won that first meeting, and the first eight games. TCU (2-1) entered the Week 3 contest on an eight-game winning streak against the Cougars, including the five non-conference games between the two schools this century. The Horned Frogs extended the streak to nine wins with a resounding 36-13 win over Houston.
Maybe TCU is still a Big 12 contender: It isn’t that TCU is great, or even as good as last year, but the Horned Frogs might be a Big 12 contender again in 2023 because someone must contend with Texas and Oklahoma before they ride off to the SEC, right? RIGHT? The Week 1 loss to Colorado doesn’t look as bad in the rear-view mirror considering the play of the Buffs and the fact that the Horned Frogs had no clue what was coming as the first team to play Deion Sanders’ group.
TCU wasn’t dominant in the win over Houston. The Cougars had their chances to make this a real game in the first half (more on that later), but the Horned Frogs slowly grounded Houston and turn the screws in the second half, outscoring them 16-0 over the last two quarters. Quarterback Chandler Morris was fine through the air – 314 yards and two scores on 37 attempts. It was his willingness to run – reminiscent to his 2021 performance against Baylor – that provides some positive vibes. He earned multiple first downs with his legs, finishing the game with 53 yards on the ground.
The Big 12 isn’t great. Baylor and Texas Tech are 1-2. Oklahoma State and Kansas State lost in Week 3. The league holds losses against the likes of Miami – the Ohio version – Rice, South Alabama, and Texas State. Wyoming pushed Texas for three quarters. No one trusts Oklahoma. The Big 12 is ripe for the taking.
We saw the recipe for TCU in the second half against Houston – play defense and run the damn ball. TCU averaged five yards a carry. That number jumps to 5.6 when sack adjusted. Emani Bailey ran the ball 23 times for 126 yards. Trey Sanders added 48 yards on eight attempts. The defense only allowed 1.3 yards per rush and turned Houston over twice on top of two turnovers on downs.
Offensive mistakes cost Houston: Houston never punted in the first half and still only managed six offensive points in the entire game. The only touchdown scored by the Cougars was on a 98-yard kickoff return by Matthew Golden. The six first half drives by Houston went field goal, turnover on downs, missed field goal, turnover on downs, interception, field goal. The Cougars failed twice on fourth-and-one. They scored just six points in the first half despite an average starting field position of their own 41 and with five of six drives reaching TCU territory.
The Cougars moved up to the Big 12 but took steps back talent wise on offense. Donovan Smith isn’t as good as Clayton Tune and there isn’t a No. 1 receiver to replace Tank Dell. Even the offensive line and tight end room isn’t as talented and deep as it was in 2021 or 2022. The loss to Rice in Week 2 was upsetting. The defeat against TCU was frustrating. Houston only trailed by seven at halftime, but the Cougars never looked threatening in the second half despite a sluggish effort by TCU offense.
Intrastate rivalries are good: The current landscape of college football is painful. We’re losing the rivalries that made the sport unique. It wasn’t the crowning of a true national champion that made college football the most fun sport in America – that didn’t really start happening until the implementation of the BCS and even that is arguable. It wasn’t the money flowing in from television deals or from playoff games. It was because of local rivalries that created passionate fan bases.
The dissolution of the Southwest Conference back in the 1990s taught most of us that nothing is sacred. It was hammered home when the Houston and TCU, along with Rice and SMU, were left out of the merger into the Big 12. We lost even more when Texas A&M bolted for the SEC. We lose even more in 2024 when Texas follows. The game against TCU and Houston, while not exactly entertaining or nationally important, was a reminder of a better time. A time when we didn’t care about national headlines or revenue. A time when it was good enough to beat your rivals for bragging rights.
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