The hashtag — and if you didn’t already know it, it’s time — is #HTowntakeover. The Houston football program began using it shortly after Tom Herman arrived. At the time, it referenced the goal of owning their market.
But after a 33-23 ambush of Oklahoma, it might signal a whole lot more. Could Houston take over the entire system, crashing the College Football Playoff from the Group of Five?
That remains a long shot. But after notching a signature victory on a huge stage — and the Cougars’ second in a row, if we count that Peach Bowl victory against Florida State (the Playoff selection committee isn’t supposed to think about last year, but they’re humans, too) — they’ve forced their way into the initial conversation.
The Cougars must remain perfect, which would mean running the table in the American Athletic Conference and beating Louisville in November. They probably need help, with some chaos in Power Five conferences. And they probably need the Sooners to bounce back in a big way.
The Cougars won with a combination of good defense, big plays, some good fortune and some magic — a Kick Six, anyone? But however it happened, they left no doubt they belong. If they can keep going, well, Herman isn’t going to talk much about this, and for good reason. But last spring he laid out the theory. Or maybe laid down the gantlet.
“Hypothetically,” he told USA TODAY Sports, “in a situation (like Houston going unbeaten), if that team does not get invited to the four-team Playoff then the system is broken. Now, how that applies to us, I don’t know.”
We might find out. And could there be even larger implications, like an #HTowntakeover right into the Big 12.
Houston’s win is unlikely to hold much sway in the conference’s expansion consideration — but you figure it can’t hurt (unless, of course, you take the opposite view, that it shows how the Cougars as a Big 12 brand might hurt the league’s current members). It certainly won’t hurt Herman’s status with potential suitors, either, including the folks just up the road in College Station and Austin. As the Cougars keep winning, the pressure only grows on Kevin Sumlin and Charlie Strong to do the same.
As for Oklahoma, let’s stay away, at least for now, from the hot takes. The Sooners’ Playoff hopes were dented, yes. But if we’ve learned anything in the first two years of the format, it’s that one loss, especially early, doesn’t knock Power Five teams out (see Ohio State and Virginia Tech in 2014 or more inexplicably, Oklahoma and Texas last season).
The Sooners could rehab their image in two weeks, when Ohio State rolls into Norman, though they’ll need to play a whole lot better. As much as Houston made plays to win, the Sooners did plenty of things to lose. That doesn’t bode well for future success, but teams routinely morph into something better after season openers.
After Week 1, though, Oklahoma now has zero margin for error. That remains the same for Houston, which cannot afford a loss at any point.
But it’s time to start talking seriously about what the #HTowntakeover might really mean.