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OU vs. Houston: A history primer of Cougars football


OU opens its 2019 season Sunday night against Houston. The Cougars are only one state away, but their history with the Sooners and Cowboys is limited. Two regular-season games and one bowl against OU. Twenty games against OSU, but only six since 1969 and just three since 1987.

Here’s a primer on Houston U. football history:

Conference championships: 11. UofH won four Missouri Valley titles in the 1950s, three of them outright. The Cougars won four Southwest Conference titles from 1976-84, but only 1978 was outright. Houston won two Conference USA titles, sharing in 1996 and winning outright in 2006. And the Cougs won the 2015 American title outright.

Bowl record: 11-15-1. But Houston is 4-1 in major bowls, having beaten Florida State in the 2015-season Peach Bowl and going 3-1 in Cotton Bowls while in the Southwest Conference – the ;’76 Cougars beat Maryland, the ’79 Cougars beat Nebraska and the ‘84 Cougars beat Boston College. The one Cotton Bowl loss was the 1978 season, when Joe Montana led a Notre Dame comeback from 34-12 down to a 35-34 victory.

Best team: After years of trying to get into the Southwest Conference, the Cougars finally were admitted for the 1976 season. Coming off a 2-8 season, Houston was not considered a threat to the tradition SWC powers. But the Cougars beat Baylor 23-5 to open the season and stunningly went on to a 9-2 record, tying for the SWC title with Texas Tech and advancing to the Cotton Bowl by virtue of its 27-19 victory in Lubbock. Houston beat Maryland in the Cotton Bowl and finished  No. 4 in the final AP poll.

Best historical position: The Cougars often have had elite pass rushers or defensive linemen – Ed Oliver of recent fame, Simon Fletcher and Eugene Lockhart in the early 1980s, Lamar Lathon in the late ‘80s, Wilson Whitley in the 1970s, Larry Cole and Greg Brezina in the 1960s.

Greatest player: Quarterback Andre Ware broke 26 NCAA records in Houston’s run-and-shoot offense; he won the Heisman Trophy.

Arch-rival: The Cougars really don’t have one. Crosstown foe Rice didn’t play Houston until 1971, and the series is just 42 games old. Now that they are in different leagues, they don’t play every year. No game is schedule this season, but the Cougars and Owls are scheduled every year from 2020-23. 

Greatest win: In 1979, Houston went 10-1 and reached the Cotton Bowl against Nebraska. The Cougars were ranked eighth, the Cornhuskers seventh. Houston trailed 14-10 in the final minutes but drove 66 yards to a touchdown, getting the game-winning touchdown when quarterback Terry Elston threw a 6-yard, fourth-and-goal pass to Eric Herring with 19 seconds left. Houston finished No. 5 in the nation.

Greatest coach: Yeoman by a mile. No other Houston coach has lasted more than seven years. No other Houston coach has more than 35 Cougar victories. Yeoman coached 25 years, 1962-86, with a record of 160-108-8. Yeoman was the innovator of the Houston veer, the triple option offense that included just two running backs.

Oklahoma connection: OU’s 1981 quarterback, Darrell Shepard, was a blue-chip recruit who originally went to Houston to run the veer.

Historical importance: In 1964, Houston coach Bill Yeoman signed Warren McVea, breaking the color barrier in Texas major-college football.

Worst tradition: Houston for decades was known for running up the score. The Cougars famously beat Tulsa 100-6 in 1968, which remains the last game a major-college team reached triple digits. In 1989, with Jack Pardee coaching the renaissance Cougars, Houston beat SMU 95-21.

Biggest upset: In 1976, the Cougars were 1-1 when they hosted ninth-ranked Texas A&M. The Aggies had finished 10-2 in 1975 and would finish 10-2 in ’76. But the Cougars beat A&M 21-10, announcing themselves as SWC contenders.

Conference history: The Cougars were in the Missouri Valley from 1951-59, then went independent until joining the SWC in ’76. When the SWC broke up, Houston joined Conference USA and stayed from 1996-12. Then UofH joined the American Conference at its formation.

Stadium: TDECU Stadium opened in 2014, on the site of the former Robertson Stadium. TDECU seats 40,000 and is a new, glittering facility. Robertson Stadium was constructed in 1941 and became UofH’s home in 1945. It was renamed Jeppesen Stadium and eventually was also home to the Oilers of the AFL for awhile. Both the Oilers and the Cougars eventually moved the Astrodome, though UofH moved back to Robertson in the 2000s.

City: Houston. Big place. You should know it well. 

Career rushing leaders: The Houston record-holder, Ketric Sanford, ran for 3,636 yards during the shadow years of 1996-99, after the SWC era. The most famous Houston running back was Robert Newhouse, 1969-71, who rushed for 2,961 yards, then spent many years with the Dallas Cowboys.

Career passing leaders: It’s a crowded field. Case Keenum threw for 19,217 yards over five seasons, 2007-11, and his predecessor, Kevin Kolb, threw for 12,964 yards from 2003-06. But Houston also had Ware, David Klingler, Greg Ward Jr. and now D’Eriq King.

Related Photos
Houston's Steven Dunbar (88) catches a pass in front of Oklahoma's Jordan Thomas (7) during the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Houston Cougars at NRG Stadium in Houston, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. Houston won 33-23. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Houston's Steven Dunbar (88) catches a pass in front of Oklahoma's Jordan Thomas (7) during the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Houston Cougars at NRG Stadium in Houston, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. Houston won 33-23. Photo by...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c51947e891db2aaade24112de90127f7.jpg" alt="Photo - Houston's Steven Dunbar (88) catches a pass in front of Oklahoma's Jordan Thomas (7) during the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Houston Cougars at NRG Stadium in Houston, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. Houston won 33-23. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman" title="Houston's Steven Dunbar (88) catches a pass in front of Oklahoma's Jordan Thomas (7) during the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Houston Cougars at NRG Stadium in Houston, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. Houston won 33-23. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Houston's Steven Dunbar (88) catches a pass in front of Oklahoma's Jordan Thomas (7) during the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Houston Cougars at NRG Stadium in Houston, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. Houston won 33-23. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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