The UH/AAC Report

D'Eriq King is leading No.17 Houston to the AAC title game

D'Eriq King shines on national television. Houston Cougar Football Facebook

Houston 57, USF 36

Welcome to the Top 25, Cougars! Houston is now ranked No. 17 after their impressive win against a then No. 21 USF team in front of 31,631 fans at TDECU Stadium.

QB D’Eriq King catapulted his offense by going 28 of 41, threw for 419 yards and 5 TDs. On the ground, King had 12 carries, 132 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs. Video game numbers. His 551 all-purpose yards and 7 total TD’s earned him AAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

It only took two minutes for Houston to find the end zone in their opening drive of the game. King scored on a 47-yard rushing TD induced by a fake jet sweep that pulled the opposing linebackers towards the sidelines, creating a hole large enough for the elusive King to run through and to the end zone. Houston then forced the USF offense to punt, in which the Coogs answered in an 8 play, 74-yard TD drive scored by WR Marques Stevenson, who had another great game with 6 receptions, 106 receiving yards, and 2 TDs. Houston shut out the Bulls in the first quarter, but the QB Blake Barnett-led offense came back in the second and scored two quick TDs of their own to tie the game. Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles responded and exposed the USF secondary to close the first half, where he called for two long TD passes leaving the score 28-21 Houston. Both teams displayed impressive offensive firepower.

King showed strength in the second half when he broke three tackles and spun out of another to then run for a 39-yard TD. That QB draw play call was on 4th and 7 and should’ve ended in a tackle for loss, but when you put the ball in your best player's hands, magical things can happen. Houston was suffocating USF with offense, and frustrated them so much that Bulls LB Khalid McGee was caught on camera shoving his own defensive backs coach. Another impressive play from King came in the fourth quarter, where he received a shovel pass from backup QB Bryson Smith and hurdled over a would-be tackler. This was a statement game for King; many people have speculated that he has been ignored all season by the Heisman voters. But after showcasing his abilities in front of the entire nation, King joins Ed Oliver in the Heisman Watch list, pursuing the heaviest individual accolade a college football player can receive. Houston blew out USF 57-36, and will play an SMU team that is 3-5 in Dallas on Saturday. The Cougars are one pace to play in the AAC championship game on Dec. 1st, where the winner will likely be in the coveted New Year’s Six spot. Houston is on a five-game win streak and improves to 7-1.

Much of the offense for USF came from the ground, where a hurt Oliver left a huge void on the defensive line. Their rushing and third down conversions came from busted plays where Bulls QB Barnett and RB Jordan Cronkite kept their team alive and in contention for much of the game. Oliver is still questionable for Saturday’s game vs SMU with a knee contusion. LB Austin Robinson again led the defense with a team high nine tackles and a fumble recovery. The Cougar defense has continued to improve, and even without their best player, they find ways to create turnovers consistently. They’ve forced at least one in every game this season.

UH is second nationally in scoring offense with 48.7 points per game while ranking third nationally in total offense with an average of 555.3 yards per game.

King now has at least two passing scores and a rush score in every game this season. The only one other FBS player in the last 20 years that has had a longer streak than his seven is Baylor's Bryce Petty in 2013 (eight straight).

Houston is the only school in the nation to rank in the top 20 for both passing offense (9th) and rushing offense (17th).

The Houston offensive line is third nationally with only four sacks allowed through seven games.

Cincinnati 26, SMU 20

The Cincinnati Bearcats scored on their opening drive only a minute and a half into the game. QB Desmond Ridder, who went 33 of 50 for 352 yards, and had two TDs, threw a beautiful pass into the end zone to WR Kahlil Lewis. The SMU Mustangs responded right back on their own opening offensive possession of the game, where QB Ben Hicks threw a TD to WR Reggie Robinson, who had 7 receptions, 147 receiving yards and 2 TDs. The score would remain tied 7-7 until the third quarter, where Bearcat WR Lewis again scores another TD on their opening drive of the second half. The Mustangs then scored 13 unanswered points, but allowed Cincinnati back in the game by turning the ball over on downs and a receiving a game tying field goal, taking them into overtime. The SMU offense then attempted to score in OT but Hicks threw the ball straight to Bearcats DB Wiggins at the 18-yard line, ending the game in a pick 6 walk off interception. Cincinnati improves to 7-1 and will face Navy on Saturday, while SMU falls to 3-5 and will face Houston at home.

Notre Dame 44, Navy 22

The No. 3 Fighting Irish opened the game aggressively in San Diego, where they shut out the Midshipmen the entire first half and scored 27 points of their own. Notre Dame QB Ian Book threw for an efficient 27 of 33, had 330 passing yards, and threw two TDs. Fighting Irish RB Dexter Williams had 23 carries, 142 rushing yards, and scored 3 TDs. Navy QB Garrett Lewis struggled, where he went 4 of 11, had 52 passing yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT. But the Midshipmen will always fight to the end and went back to their style of offense by running their traditional triple option run scheme, where their RBs combined for over 250 rushing yards and had 3 TDs. Notre Dame improves to 8-0 for the season and will play Northwestern, while Navy sinks to 2-6 and will travel to Cincinnati.

Other Notable Results in the AAC

Tulane 24, Tulsa 17

UMass 22, Connecticut 17

Teams on BYE

UCF, Temple, ECU, Memphis

Stats pulled via UH Cougar Football.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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