The football team from the University of Houston defeated the one from Florida State University in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve, 38-24, ESPN reports.
Coming into the game, the Houston Cougars were ranked 18th in the nation, while the Seminoles were ranked ninth. The statisticians favored Florida State by 7 points, but many people, including the supreme experts at the Las Vegas Sun, thought that point spread gave the Cougars more credit than they deserved against the Seminoles.
“Seminoles have covered in five consecutive games behind a defense that’s allowed only 4.5 yards per play during the streak,” the paper writes. “Encountering that caliber of defense—which includes stars in cornerback Jalen Ramsey, defensive end DeMarcus Walker and linebacker Reggie Northrup—will serve as a shock to the Cougars. Houston is overvalued by virtue of going 3-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown.”
Apparently not, since Houston left no doubt they were the superior team.
Prior to this year, the University of Houston wasn’t well known for its football program. But bringing in a new head coach can change things quickly. Coach Tom Herman was being courted by other teams, but once the folks at Houston saw what he did, they quickly extended his contract, offering him $2.8 million a year, a significant raise over his contract this season, worth a mere $1 million.
It has been duly noted that the paycheck he gets for a single day’s work is higher than the total annual pay received by graduate teaching assistants at the University of Houston, which was known, at least before this year’s Peach Bowl, mostly as a strong academic institution.
“But I don’t begrudge the coach his praise or paycheck,” writes Robert Zaretsky in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He’s a professor of world cultures and literatures in the department of modern and classical languages. “If only I could turn around a class of freshman-comp students the way he turned around our football team. (I dream of my students pouring a barrel of Gatorade over my head as, hunched over my desk, I grade their flawless essays.)”
He also reminds us that there’s much more to a university than a football team, even more to one than can possibly be presented in those little one-minute dog-and-pony shows that the broadcasting network plays during the timeouts. You know, the ones with scientists in white coats looking through a microscope or at a flask with clear colored liquid in it. Or college students looking with wonder at a professor lecturing, taking notes because they know they’re on camera. Could some of this money help to make a university education more affordable for select students? To ensure college grads learn at least one foreign language?
But a win over Florida State could bring an increase in applications to Houston, although the quality of applications that are part of that increase has been called into question. He writes:
Yet other studies cast doubt on the value of those claims. For example, the statistical work of Andrew Zimbalist, the college-sports economist at Smith College, questions both the yield and quality of student applications in the wake of a successful football season. In a landmark work, Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports, he concludes: “The common arguments frequently made to justify committing large resources to college athletics do not stand up to empirical scrutiny.”
The Seminoles have a history of championships in college football, but the team has also been plagued with accusations of criminal activity on the part of student-athletes a bit more than the average group of college students.
Perhaps the most famous incident occurred in 2013, when a woman accused quarterback Jameis Winston of sexual battery (rape). He was never charged in a criminal indictment, but the episode marked a low time for the university.
“I think it’s a consensus among FSU fans and boosters that he was an embarrassment to the university,” legendry FSU coach Bobby Bowden told SiriusXM’s Paul Finebaum, as reported by USA Today. “He won a lot of ball games, probably one of the best football players that ever attended Florida State, but he hurt himself off the field. The good news is that he’s young enough to get over that, you know it, and he’s gotta do that. He just can’t make those junior high school decisions that he made while he was in college.”
As it was played, it was a great game to watch. FSU’s quarterback suffered an early injury, which throws all the statistical homework odds-makers do to predict the outcome out the window. And the better academic and value-rich university won the football game. Lots of lessons to learn.
At the University of Maryland
The Terps from College Park played their first football season in the Big 10 Conference and gave Ohio State a run for their money in the first half of that game early in the season.
To build up the program to Big 10 stature, the university has brought in a new head coach in DJ Durkin, who has never been a head coach at this level. It has therefore become a priority to hire assistant coaches who have worked as a head coach. Durkin himself has worked under some great head coaches, including Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. Next year, he’ll be working with former Virginia coach Mike London (defensive line), former Syracuse coach Scott Shafer (defensive coordinator), and former Ball State coach Pete Lembo (special teams).