The one good thing about the thermometer routinely breaking 95 degrees is that it's a Pavlovian sign that college football is almost here. Indeed, as of today, we are officially under 70 days until the start of the 2017 season. The nightmare of football-less Saturdays and Sundays is almost over!
In Houston, the true start of the college football season has become the Advocate Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium, which has been a thing since the 2013 season, when Oklahoma State beat Mississippi State, 21-3. Since then, as the landscape of opening weekend games with a big "bowl game" feel has evolved, Houston's game has become a regularly relevant one, probably peaking last season when the No. 15 University of Houston started Tom Herman's second (and final) season as the Cougars head coach off with a bang, defeating No. 3 Oklahoma, 33-23.
Last season's game had all sorts of layers to it — Power Five blue blood versus the best Group of Five team, Houston's ongoing campaign for Big XII membership, the perpetual rumors of Herman's taking a bigger head coaching job (which he would routinely scoff at...and we know how that ended... #honesty). This season's game has significantly less juice, with the LSU Tigers, whose fans will likely pack the stadium, versus the BYU Cougars in what will be LSU head coach Ed Orgeron's first game as Tiger head coach.
That brings us to the announcement on Friday unveiling the 2018 matchup, in which the Texas Tech Red Raiders will take on the Ole Miss Rebels, an intriguing matchup for a few reasons:
1. We get our first Big XII versus SEC matchup in the Advocate Texas Kickoff since that OSU-Mississippi State inaugural matchup four years ago. As most of you know, the bowl game that takes place in Houston in December each season features those two conferences, so this matchup plays into the collegiate conference "feel" that NRG Stadium games generally have.
2. Barring unforeseen stellar 2017 seasons from either school (Ole Miss is facing a 2017 postseason ban, by the way), this will likely be the first time ever that the Advocate Texas Kickoff pits two unranked teams against one another. Geographically, the game should play well enough that ticket sales will be brisk, but this might be the least amount of national attention the NRG Stadium season opener gets in the game's short history.
There is one wrinkle that could amp up the intrigue, though...
3. ...like if this were a game matching up two brand-new head coaches against one another. Go find any article about "college head football coaches on the hot seat" this coming season, and Hugh Freeze and Kliff Kingsbury are likely to be fairly high up those lists. Freeze and Kingsbury are both coming off 5-7 seasons in 2016, and face an uphill struggle to make any sort of significant leap in 2017, with the aforementioned postseason ban hanging over the Rebels and Kingsbury trying to replace top 10 NFL Draft pick Pat Mahomes at quarterback.
Freeze had the Ole Miss program moving in the right direction for a few seasons, averaging nearly nine wins from 2012 through 2016. If you recall, it was Ole Miss who actually gave Alabama its stiffest competition in the regular season in the SEC, leading by three scores at one point during that game last year. However, a slew of NCAA violations and scrutiny have enveloped the program, and Freeze's time may be running out.
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As for Kingsbury, he's seemed a little bit in over his head since taking the Tech job back in 2013. Probably a necessary "keep it in the family" kind of hire after Tommy Tuberville's surprising departure, Kingsbury has never been able to put a credible defense on the field, and he's gone 13-23 in Big XII play in that time. (The chicks do dig him, though.)
So, while the 2018 Advocate Texas Kickoff might not have the sexiest football programs in the world participating, there's a very good chance we could be seeing the debuts of two new head coaches at their respective schools.
Call it the "ZipRecruiter New Hire Bowl."
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.