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Did the Cougars Run Up the Score on Rice? Does It Really Matter?

I've got a friend who is just starting out as a sports agent. His sport is football. It appears that there's this preseason list of college players that is put together by scouts that can be purchased by agents. And this list provides the preseason draft-slotting for each player who will be eligible for next season's draft. The highest-ranked Houston Cougar on the current preseason list is wide receiver Patrick Edwards, and from what I was told, he's projected for the fourth round of the upcoming draft.

I've got another friend, a graduate of the University of Houston, who is upset with the Cougars. This friend thinks the Cougars set out to run the score up on the Rice Owls last week, and this friend thinks this was the wrong thing to do. My simple response is that no, the Cougars didn't set out to run up the score. The Cougars treated the Owls much in the same fashion as they treated ECU and Marshall in the weeks previous. The second and third offensive players came into all three games at about the same point.

The response to this is that it doesn't matter. That this is still wrong. Essentially, the argument goes, the Cougar offense should just give up and take a knee on every play when they have gone up by some undefined margin -- if the Cougars would have done this against Rice, it's entirely possible that they could have lost as the Cougar defense never really succeeded in shutting down the Rice offense (running back Tyler Smith seemingly found holes in the UH defensive line to punch through every time he touched the ball). And when it was further pointed out that other teams throughout college football put up huge wins on their opponent every week, the response was that the Cougars should be better than everybody else.

The Cougars can't afford to be better sports than everybody else. Not now. Now when they're trying to make a major bowl game. Not when they're trying to become nationally relevant. Not when they're on the verge of a move to a major conference. Especially when that major conference is the Big East, a conference that has automatic qualifying status to BCS bowl games.

The Coogs have leaped from unranked to number 14 in the AP poll and number 13 in the BCS poll over the past month on the strength of the large and impressive victories over ECU, Marshall and Rice. They didn't make such leaps when they were struggling to defeat UCLA, North Texas and Louisiana Tech at the start of the season. They made the leap up the rankings once the offense finally started performing as expected by many before the season started.

It's on the strength of this offense that UH's reputation rides. Case Keenum, for instance, virtually sets a new NCAA record every week. And the better his numbers, the more the Cougars get national attention. And the more national attention the Cougars get, the more the casual fan pays attention. And the more the casual fan pays attention, the better the standing of the university in the city, the state and the nation.

The Cougars are following a path previously blazed by Boise State, which has gone from a school known for playing on blue turf to a school that the BCS conference schools are afraid to play. Boise State was labeled a fluke. A mid-major seemingly running up scores on conference rivals and smaller schools but who couldn't beat the big boys. Until they got the chance and took out Oklahoma in one of the most memorable bowl games of the past decade. And now, every season, Boise State starts the season by embarrassing a school from one of the major conferences. This is why Boise State has become the linchpin to the Big East's plan to retain its AQ-BCS status.

The Cougars are hoping for this same chance. They've defeated BCS schools like Oklahoma State, UCLA, Mississippi State and Texas Tech in previous seasons. Like Boise State, they keep winning by large margins so that they keep grabbing the attention of the voters so that, in turn, they can move higher up the rankings which, further in turn, allow them to move further up the BCS standings. And if they can move into the top 12 of the BCS, and should Boise State be upset before the end of the season, then the Cougars should have the opportunity to play in a BCS bowl.

Getting national attention, getting into a BCS bowl and getting into an AQ-BCS conference brings the Cougars much-needed added attention. This brings bigger donors to the school, improves the chances of getting the major facilities upgrades done quicker. It brings games on ESPN and not Comcast, Fox Sports Net and not CBS Sports Channel. It brings in more worthy out-of-conference opponents, which also brings more money and more national attention to the program.

This brings in better players. Bigger players. Players who would normally go to UT or Oklahoma or LSU or USC. It means that in future years, when pro scouts put together the preseason lists of college prospects, the Cougar players will be seen as number one draft picks, not number four draft picks, thus bringing in more money and bigger, better players.

Then again, the Cougars could just take a knee when they're winning by that mythical, undefined margin. They can be better than the other major college football programs in the country and not embarrass ECU, Marshall or Rice. Then they can go back to struggling for players and struggling to upgrade their facilities. They can remain in a mediocre conference with no hope of ever playing in a bowl game, much less a major bowl game.

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So, what's your choice?

Note: The guy who made the comments that triggered this post is (furiously) holding his tongue.

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