In Praise Of The Cougars And Kevin Sumlin

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There have been a lot of rumors circulating about Houston Cougars head coach Kevin Sumlin. Mostly rumors about him leaving the Cougars to take over as head coach of another, more high-profile college football team. But according to Steve Campbell at the Houston Chronicle, Sumlin is close to signing an extension to remain on as coach of the Cougars.

This is, of course, very good news for the school, the players, and the fans. Sumlin took over the program after Art Briles departed for Baylor. Briles did a nice job of raising the program from the depths to which it had fallen -- anybody remember that 0-11 record under Dana Dimel in 2001? But Sumlin has taken what Briles started and he has returned the Cougars to the national conscious of college football fans and the media.

The Cougars are a fun team to watch. The offense commanded by quarterback Case Keenum is a high-octane marvel to behold. The Cougars' spread offense is one of the best in college football, and the only thing that has been able to shut it down has been a defense that has trouble with keeping the other team's offense off of the field. But while the offense is fun, and while the players have spoke of the joy they get in not only scoring a touchdown, but in executing the perfect read, it is not an offense that can be played by just anybody.

It is an offense that takes more than skill. It takes discipline. If you watch a Cougars game, you'll notice that -- unlike the pro team called the Texans -- this is a team that doesn't commit penalties. Not only does this team not commit penalties, it doesn't commit stupid penalties. The offensive line doesn't jump offsides when it is third-and-inches at the goal line. There are no too-many-men-in-motion penalties with this offense.  

Sumlin, and his players, take as much, or more, pride in their discipline as they do in their ability to score from anywhere on the field in a matter of seconds. This discipline is important for more than just the lack of penalties. The discipline is important because of the precision that is needed to execute the offense. Receivers and running backs cross in front of Keenum mere split-seconds before the snap. The receivers have to make the same defensive reads as Keenum or else they will be a different location than the football that has just been thrown by Keenum.

It's part of this discipline and precision brought to the team by Sumlin that has him so sought after by the big schools. It's also part of the reason that I often find myself so frustrated by Gary Kubiak. Kubiak's offense is anything but a well-oiled machine. The Texans often make those stupid mistakes that the Cougars don't. The Cougar backs hit those holes that the Texans backs don't. The Cougar receivers run those precise routes that the pros on the Texans can't always seem to make.

How is that Sumlin can make young kids do what Kubiak can't make his professional veterans do? I don't know. But Sumlin's able to pull off it every week.

The Cougars aren't a perfect team. They lost three games this season, and all of those games are games that should have been easily won by the Cougars. The team is a bit undersized, especially on the defensive side, and this makes it hard for them to compete on a consistent basis with the big-boy schools. But the defense was young, and lots of freshmen and sophomores saw more playing time than originally intended because of injuries, so there's reason to believe that they should be improved next season. And unlike Briles, who seemed to ignore the team's defensive needs when he was out recruiting, Sumlin seems to be making more of an effort as he knows that the future of the Cougars will ride on more than just the team's offense.

The Cougars are still attempting to finalize some games on next year's schedule. But they're currently set to play big-boy schools like UCLA, Navy, Mississippi State, and Texas Tech. It's a nice schedule for a team from a minor conference looking to take that next step up the ladder of the national rankings. And if Sumlin has shown anything, it's that he's not going to be satisfied until the team has made that jump.

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