Houston Cougars defensive lineman Atlias Bell gears up for an upcoming play against East Carolina on Nov. 19. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
The Houston Cougars football team is nearing the end of the 2022 regular season. After a campaign of highs and lows, UH still finds itself with a slim shot at making the American Athletic Conference championship game.
With all clinching scenarios requiring Houston to beat Tulsa and then a lot of other things to happen out of the team’s control, Saturday’s regular-season finale will offer this year’s seniors a chance to be honored by the team.
“It’s a group that means a lot to me,” Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We went through COVID together. We went through a losing season together. We went through a championship run and then all the ups and downs of what has happened this year.”
“Whether it’s close losses, close wins, just the amount of injuries that have happened. The amount of criticism that we have all endured, [they] hung in there and became a resilient group.”
Houston is coming off its most dominating win of the season against East Carolina. The 42-3 victory was the Cougars’ fifth in the last six games.
Holgorsen said it was the most fun he has seen his team have this season, and the seniors have been a big reason why Houston has been able to gut it out and overcome a 2-3 start.
“With help of the coaches and myself, I think the message [for the season turnaround] has just been quit worrying about expectations and how people view us and how we feel like we should be doing,” Houston quarterback Clayton Tune said.
Tune is one of 17 seniors that will be honored in Saturday’s game against Tulsa. He has been at the helm of the quarterback position for the Cougars since the 2019 season when then-starting quarterback D’Eriq King announced his decision to redshirt the season and never played another snap for UH again.
The Carrollton native said his time with the Cougars has been filled with so many moments that it makes it difficult for him to choose just one.
“There’s so many I can’t just pinpoint one,” Tune said. “I think the thing I am most proud of us is the resiliency of this team and the resiliency I feel like I’ve displayed throughout the years because it’s been rocky.”
“[I] didn’t have a lot of success in 18, 19, and 20. I didn’t play all that great, and then to have a season like we did in 21 and then to battle through this season that we’ve had in 22 has been crazy. I feel like it’s been almost more impressive just because we’ve been through so much more.”
On the defensive side of the ball, lineman Atlias Bell will be another one of the 17 seniors that will be recognized on Saturday. In a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday, Houston defensive coordinator Doug Belk said that he felt Bell played his strongest game ever with the Cougars against the Pirates.
Bell was one of the linemen that played on the edge often, Belk said, and he was able to win some one-on-one matchups as Houston aimed to confuse ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers and make the game tough for him.
“It’s just been an honor playing with all those guys,” Bell said. “We’ve been here through some really good seasons and then not-so-good seasons. We’ve been here while the program has been kind of shifting, so it has been different for all of us.”
Despite the roller-coaster season, Bell said the group of this year’s seniors is aiming to make an impact that lasts into next season, Houston’s first in the Big 12, and beyond.
“It’s made all of us closer, and we’re just trying to end this thing on the right note for the guys next year,” Bell said. “Establish a culture here, establish our Third Ward Defense mentality back and just make it better for the future for other guys.”
Around the American
Cincinnati (9-2, 6-1 AAC) and Tulane (9-2, 6-1 AAC) will meet for a Friday conference prime-time showdown at 11 a.m. CT on ABC. The winner of the game will not only secure a spot in the AAC championship game but will also host the matchup.
The loser, depending on the outcome of Houston (7-4, 5-2 AAC) against Tulsa and Central Florida (8-3, 5-2 AAC) versus South Florida, will likely have to sweat out a few days before knowing their fate.
If both Houston and UCF lose their respective games, then the loser of Tulane and Cincinnati automatically qualifies for the championship game due to having the better conference record.
If there is a two-team tie, UCF holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Tulane and Cincinnati, and the Knights also have a distinct advantage after this week’s College Football Playoff Selection Committee Rankings, which gives it the edge over Houston as well.
If both Houston and UCF win their respective games, then the loser of Cincinnati and Tulane will be in a three-way conference record tie. The tiebreaker will be decided by who has the highest CFP rankings.
If UCF loses, Houston wins, and Cincinnati loses, the CFP rankings will also determine who jumps into the championship game. If neither Houston nor Cincinnati are ranked in the event UCF loses, then the tiebreaker will be decided by a composite average of selected computer rankings (Anderson & Hester, Billingsley, Colley, and Wolfe), according to the league’s policy.
If UCF loses, Houston wins, and Tulane loses, the Green Wave holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cougars.
In Tuesday evening’s CFP rankings, Tulane is the highest-rated school in the conference at 19, and UCF is second at 22, which means that if the Knights beat South Florida, they are likely in the championship game. Cincinnati is third at 24, and Houston is not ranked.