Falcon Points

Sampson's Cougars should have high aspirations after 23-1 start

Kelvin Sampson has the Cougars rolling. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Houston Cougars came off a big week, with wins at pre-season American Conference favorite Central Florida and Sunday's home win over the other class of the conference, Cincinnati.

The Cougars are 23-1, have won 32 straight at home, eight in a row overall and should be in the top 10 when the rankings come out today. The selection committee had them in the first 16 over the weekend and listed as a No. 3 seed.

Most of you were probably not even alive the last time the Cougars were nationally relevant in basketball. They clearly are right now.

But how good are they? The Cincinnati win might be their best of the season, although an early victory over LSU looks pretty good as well. There are a lot of solid wins, but not a lot of standouts. Can they play with the Tennessees, Dukes, Kentuckys and Michigans of the world? Last year they certainly proved they could play with Michigan. And while those questions will be answered later on, we have seen nothing out of this team that says it can't play with those schools.

The only loss came amid controversy in a tough road spot at Temple, and the Cougars got revenge against the Owls last week.

The big question is how good do you think the AAC is this season? The Cougars have not won a conference game by fewer than seven points - the second Temple game and the Cincinnati game. They have improved as the season has gone on, and have taken control of the conference.

Kelvin Sampson's team is deep, athletic, plays strong defense and can hit you with a variety of scoring threats. They have held opponents to under 40 percent shooting in 14 of 17 home games and have made the Feritta Center one of the hottest tickets in town.

The Cougars have seven conference games remaining, with a potential roadblock at UConn on Thursday and a rematch with Cincinnati on the road to close out the regular season. It's likely the two teams will meet again in the conference tournament.

It's hard to see this team losing more than two games down the stretch, and a No. 3 seed or even higher seems likely. And if they can get the right bracket, who knows? At this point, anything less than the Sweet 16 would seem like a disappointment. That's a pretty big goal for a team that has languished for years.

There is no doubt Sampson's name will start popping up for other jobs again after the season. But he seems to like it here, and he has proven he can win games at a high level.

Just how high? We will find out in March. But there is no reason for Cougars fan not to have big dreams. It has been a long time coming, and the ride is far from over.

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The Coogs nearly upset #16 SMU, but ultimately fell short. This was the only game in the AAC this week that didn't have a 40+ point scorer. Let's take a look at what Week Nine in the AAC looked like:

UH loses by three to ranked SMU

In a game in which they outgained #16 SMU by 125 total yards and won time of possession by a shade over three minutes they still lost 34-31. The main culprits were turnovers (they had a -2 margin) and penalty yards (11 accepted penalties for 129 yards). Twice this game a turnover led directly to touchdowns for SMU, both on very short fields. Games like this make me think if there were more senior leadership, these mistakes wouldn't happen. That said, they still could've won this game. Next year and the coming years look promising. Clayton Tune outperformed Shane Buechele at the quarterback spot this game. Dare I say, there may be a bit of controversy going into next year when D'Eriq King returns?

Other key results

Navy 41, Tulane 38: Tulane is on a two game losing streak, while Navy extended their win streak to four games. They're two ships passing in the night. One is ascending, the other descending. Both will most likely make a bowl game, but they'll make different levels of bowl games.

UCF 63, Temple 21: In a matchup of two 5-2 teams coming into this game, I fully expected a much different result. The Golden Knights ended up rolling the Owls and looked much like the team from the past few years who dominated this conference, while Temple looked like their historical average to below average selves.

Memphis 42, Tulsa 41: Tulsa took this game down to the final seconds and almost pulled off the upset, but missed a 29-yard field goal. Coming into this game, Memphis was 6-1 and Tulsa was 2-5. This would've knocked Memphis down a few pegs in bowl jockeying position. Tulsa is playing out the strings of their season and trying to play spoiler, and almost did.

Stars of the week

UCF Running Backs: Otis Anderson had a career high 205 rushing yards on 17 carries and a touchdown; Bentavious Thompson had 10 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns; Adrian Killins Jr totaled 52 yards and a touchdowns on four carries. 344 yards on 31 carries and four touchdowns was a helluva job by these three guys.

Kevin Mensah, RB, UConn: 19 carries for 164 yards for a 8.6 yards per carry average is one thing...but five touchdowns?!? This was against UMass in a 56-35 win, but still, five touchdowns is still five touchdowns.

Marquez Stevenson, WR, UH: Five catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns, including a 96 yard touchdown to draw the score within three points. His yardage total was almost a third of his season total, as well as a third of his touchdown total for the season.

Games to watch this week

SMU @ Memphis


Cincinnati @ ECU

Tulsa @ Tulane

Players to watch this week

Clayton Tune, UH: After throwing for 407 yards and almost upsetting the #16 team in the country. UCF has been the top dog in the conference the last few years. Let's see what Tune can do against the Golden Knights.

Xavier Jones, SMU: In a matchup of ranked teams with good running backs, I'm looking to see if Jones can continue his nearly two touchdown per game pace against Memphis.

Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis: Ditto here. Gainwell has 115 more rushing yards than Jones, but three less touchdowns on the season. Whoever wins this battle most likely wins this high profile game.

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