If the University of Houston could bottle up all of the positive things that have been happening for the program, on the field and off the field, over the last month or so, they could sell it for millions to all of the other Group of Five level schools. Aside from one unfortunate but (in retrospect) relatively insignificant misstep at Connecticut a couple weeks ago, the Cougars have mapped out a blueprint in seeking relevance at the non-Power Five level.
They smoked an SEC school with a legit defense in Vanderbilt 34-0, they closed business at home in back to back close games against Cincinnati and Memphis (including a seminal 20 point comeback against the Tigers), they trounced a Navy team that was favored by four points by a score of 52-31, and they finally closed the season out with a 24-13 win for the AAC title on Saturday and a berth in the Peach Bowl opposite Florida State.
Off the field, they locked their highly sought after head coach Tom Herman into a new contract at over double his previous salary, making him the highest paid coach outside of the Power Five, and one of the 30 or so highest paid head coaches in the country. Now comes the time of year where Herman can bring some of the accolades he and his team are receiving for their 12-1 season onto the recruiting trail, and a new sell-able item came down earlier this week.
After a season in which he became only the fifth head coach to win the first 10 games of his career, Herman was one of eight head coaches named as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award for the 2015 season.
The other four to win the first 10 games in their head coaching career were Boise State’s Chris Petersen (2006), Miami’s Larry Coker (2001), Penn’s George Woodruff (1892) and Yale’s Walter Camp (1888). However, of the five to achieve this, Herman took over the team with the lowest winning percentage in the previous year (61.5 percent) while Peterson took over a team with a 69.2 winning percentage, followed by Woodruff (84.6 percent), Coker (91.7 percent) and Camp (1.000 percent).
Herman has immediately put his stamp on this team in his first season. Vowing toughness, the Cougars are in the top 20 nationally in rushing offense and defense, and in the top 20 in scoring offense and defense. Along with Oklahoma, they're one of only two teams to rank in the top 12 in scoring offense and top 20 in scoring defense. Nine of their 12 wins have come by double digits, with seven of those by 21 points or more.
Off the field, Herman is getting it done on the recruiting trail and his team getting it done in the classroom. Currently, the Cougars incoming class is rated 37th by Rivals, ahead of seven Big XII teams. In the classroom, the team currently carries the second highest GPA in program history.
As for the other seven finalists, here are their resumes, in a nutshell:
MARK DANTONIO, Michigan State: Led Michigan State to a 12-1 season, a Big Ten title, and a berth in the College Football Playoffs, with a resume that includes wins over four Top 25 teams.
KIRK FERENTZ, Iowa: Led Iowa to a surprising 12-1 record and a berth in the Big Ten title Game. Iowa will face Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
BRIAN KELLY, Notre Dame: Led Notre Dame to a 10-2 record and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, despite the Irish losing their starting quarterback, tailback, safety, nose tackle, and tight end before the first month of the season had ended.
MATT RHULE, Temple: Continued the unlikely ascent of one of the more downtrodden programs in recent years, instilling toughness, and attaining a berth in the AAC title game, finishing with a 10-3 record.
DAVID SHAW, Stanford: Overcame a season opening loss to Northwestern to come back and win the Pac-12 title, earn victory over Notre Dame, and a berth in the Rose Bowl. Stanford finished sixth in the final College Football Playoff Rankings.
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BOB STOOPS, Oklahoma: Bounced back from an October loss to Texas to lead the Sooners to an 11-1 record, a Big XII title, and a berth in the College Football Playoffs.
DABO SWINNEY, Clemson: Went wire to wire as the number one team in the country in every weekly iteration of the College Football Playoff rankings. Clemson is the number one seed in the playoff, ACC Champions, and the only undefeated team in the country.
The award, named after Grambling's longtime program patriarch, will be handed out January 9 in Scottsdale, AZ at a reception in conjunction with the College Football Playoff championship game. The Paul "Bear" Bryant Award is the other prestigious couching award and is handed out here in Houston following the bowl season.
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